With Christmas Day just 58 days away there are growing fears that plans for family celebrations will be thrown into chaos by each country’s different levels of lockdown. Ministers have already warned they are prepared to prevent large family gatherings at Christmas if coronavirus restrictions are still in place in England. And leaders from the four home nations are now facing calls to come up with a uniform plan to offer UK-wide guidance for the festive season.
We need a four nations summit to agree on one set of uniform guidance for Christmas
Mr Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Arlene Foster have been warned to “accept the inevitability” that people will travel over the holiday period.
The Liberal Democrats in Scotland, Wales and England – together with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – said guidance cannot be made in isolation given the “interlinked” nature of UK life and have demanded a “four nations summit” to agree a plan.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: “No one country can manage this challenge in isolation. The fractured rules across the UK have already been incredibly difficult to piece together.
“We need a four nations summit to agree on one set of uniform guidance for Christmas that works for families across the UK.
“Ministers across Britain need to start work on it now.”
Boris Johnson has been urged to hold COVID talks with Nicola Sturgeon and other UK leaders
Despite a near uniform approach to lockdown restrictions at the start of the coronavirus crisis in March, the picture across the country is now much more fragmented.
In Scotland, First Minister Ms Sturgeon said her Government was looking at phased term dates and possible testing of students, and issues of people returning home where there are vulnerable people.
Welsh First Minister Mr Drakeford has said the current “firebreak” restrictions should give a pathway to Christmas “without needing a period of this severity of restraint between now and then”.
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Boris Johnson has been urged to hold a UK summit to discuss Christmas coronavirus restrictions
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In England, Downing Street has said it is the Government’s “ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year”.
But Environment Secretary George Eustice also warned families living in areas under different tier restrictions may not be allowed to meet even in groups of fewer than six.
Mr Eustice said it was “too early to say” how lockdowns could affect festivities, but told LBC: “Obviously if we do need to have restrictions in place, and prevent families from coming together in large gatherings, if that’s necessary to control the virus that’s what we’ll have to do.”
He rejected the Lib Dem demands for Christmas coronavirus restrictions to be announced now.
He said: “We should set our guidelines, not as the Lib Dems say, based on Christmas is coming, we should set our guidelines based on the epidemiology of this virus and follow the science and respond to emerging situations in a proportionate way.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Government’s failure to introduce a circuit-break lockdown over the school half-term has “put Christmas at risk” and urged ministers to “do something quickly to save Christmas”.
He said Government sources were planning for a Tier 3 lockdown in most areas of the country “at some point in November”, which he expects will continue through the festive period.
Asked if he thought families would be able to meet in groups of more than six, the Labour MP said: “That’s in the hands of all of us, and in the hands of the decisions it the Government makes in the next week or so about what they’re going to do to get on top of this virus.
“I think because they’ve missed this window of opportunity over the half-term, I’m worried now that what we’ll see is deeper, more drastic lockdown action over November and December, which sadly probably does put Christmas at risk.
“The Government have got to do something quickly to save Christmas for everybody, because we want people to have a family Christmas, and I think it would be awful if people didn’t have that.”
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Former senior judge Lord Sumption warned there were “serious social and mental health issues involved in keeping grandparents away from the Christmas table”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Let’s be clear about what this involves. It involves leaving grandparents out of it in the great majority of cases, and that really raises questions which go well beyond public health and actually well beyond law.
“What choices you are prepared to make in order to lead to a life worth living is an intensely personal question. People know the risks and they must make their own choices as to what to do. There isn’t a single answer which can be dictated by ministers in Whitehall.
“I think that there are serious social and mental health issues involved in keeping grandparents away from the Christmas table, supposedly for their own protection, when they may actually prefer a better quality of life.”