Humza Yousaf accused of lying to MSPs after denying Covid travel ban was politically motivated

Scotland's First Minister, Humza Yousaf, wearing a suit and carrying a black binder in the Scottish Parliament
Humza Yousaf told MSPs the decision was taken for 'purely epidemiological' reasons - Ken Jack/Getty Images

Humza Yousaf has been accused of lying to MSPs after new evidence emerged which supports claims that the SNP lifted Covid travel restrictions to Spain partly for political reasons.

The First Minister told Holyrood last month that decisions on Spanish travel made in July 2020 during the pandemic were based on “purely epidemiological” concerns.

This was despite the UK Covid inquiry having already uncovered evidence suggesting Spain was treated more favourably due to fears it could block an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU as revenge if it was not added to a travel exemptions list.

Now the Scottish Tories have obtained further emails which show that Scott Wightman, a Scottish Government official, said in July 2020 that “politically a decision on Spain” had to be announced in the Scottish Parliament. Just hours later, the rules were eased.

A government briefing note also made clear that “Scotland’s external relationships, including with Spain” had been “adversely impacted by the current restrictions” and called for the rules to be relaxed.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said that Mr Yousaf had “some serious explaining to do”.

He added: “It would appear from this explosive email chain that the First Minister misled parliament when he assured me at First Minister’s Questions that the decision to exempt Spain was taken for ‘purely epidemiological reasons’.

“These messages reinforce what we learned at the UK Covid Inquiry – that the SNP Government were influenced by the political ramifications of maintaining a travel ban, rather than solely public safety.

“Those who lost loved ones will rightly be appalled that, even at the height of the pandemic, the SNP were still gaming their independence obsession.”

Tweet from Yousaf reading, in part "we will add Spain to the list of Countries exempt from quarantine" and sent in July 2020
Humza Yousaf tweeted about the change to travel restrictions at the time

Mr Wightman had written a note, disclosed during Nicola Sturgeon’s evidence to the Covid inquiry, in which he warned that the Spanish Government “won’t forget” if travel restrictions were maintained.

He added: “There is a real possibility they will never approve EU membership for an independent Scotland as a result.”

Mr Yousaf had claimed on Feb 1 that it was a “fantasy” to say that a decision on Spain was taken for “any other reason than epidemiology”.

Quarantine rules for travel to Spain were lifted by the Scottish Government on July 20, 2020, after concerns were raised over the impact on relations with Madrid and the implications for independence.

Spain was removed from an exemptions list on a UK basis days later, following a rise in cases.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Covid travel restrictions – which broadly aligned across the UK – were vital to protect the people of Scotland from the harms of Covid-19. This was the prime focus and intention of ministers, clinicians and civil servants across the Scottish Government.

“The decision to add Spain to the exemption list and the subsequent decision to remove it from the list were both based on the UK Government’s data on the prevalence rate in Spain relative to Scotland’s prevalence rate at the time, as is clear from this correspondence.”