UK facing winter of discontent over Covid-19 and no-deal Brexit, warns SNP

Boris Johnson risks leading Britain into a “winter of discontent” given impending Covid-19 and Brexit turmoil, the SNP’s Westminster leader has claimed.

Ian Blackford said the country faces other “major threats” beyond the prediction of a surge in Covid-19 cases, as he pressed the Westminster Government to extend the furlough scheme.

Prime Minister Mr Johnson defended the Government’s support packages, later telling MPs that further measures will be brought forward.

But he also argued it would not be sensible to extend the existing furlough scheme in its present form beyond October.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Blackford said: “There’s another set of numbers and all of this is of the Tory Government’s own making.

“One million jobs at risk if furlough ends early, a £30 billion-a-year bill to the taxpayer from a no-deal Brexit, and today we learn 7,000 trucks queuing for days at Dover.

“If those numbers become a reality, the Prime Minister is leading us into another winter of discontent.

“Our First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon) has shown leadership on all fronts during this pandemic. However, the responsibility and power for extending the furlough scheme lie with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

“The Prime Minister must announce an immediate extension, no half measures, no half-baked projects, to this vital and life-saving scheme. Will the Prime Minister show the leadership required and save the jobs?”

Prime Minister’s Questions
Boris Johnson said it would not be sensible to extend the existing furlough scheme in its present form beyond October (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mr Johnson responded: “I notice that both (Mr Blackford) and (Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer) now support an indefinite extension of the furlough scheme… that’s what he said.

“What we will do, as I’ve said throughout, is continue to put our arms around the people of this country going through a very tough time and come up with the appropriate, creative and imaginative schemes to keep them in work and keep the economy moving.”

Mr Blackford said that the last thing Scots at risk of losing their jobs due to the furlough scheme ending want is a hug from Mr Johnson.

He said: “Yesterday, the only reassurance the Prime Minister gave those Scottish workers (was) saying that he would throw his arms around them. Prime Minister, I can tell you the last thing those 61,000 Scots are looking for is a hug from you.

“They need the security of knowing that they can hold on to their jobs and incomes, for themselves and their families.”

Mr Johnson responded: “I can imagine that (Mr Blackford) doesn’t want a hug from me, but that was a metaphor and what we’re… perhaps it’s physically incarnated by the £12.7 billion of Barnett consequentials that we’re seeing come from the UK Exchequer to support people across the whole of our country.”

The SNP’s Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) pressed the Prime Minister to extend the furlough scheme and help people on legacy benefits.

Mr Johnson told the Commons: “Of course the Government is going to come forward with further measures.

“I don’t think it’d be sensible simply to extend the current existing furlough scheme in its present form beyond the end of October, but we will do everything we can to support businesses, support those in jobs and indeed the self-employed.”

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