THE UK Government did not “communicate everything” to Scottish ministers during the pandemic - including one of the key changes in public health messaging, Michael Gove has admitted.

The Levelling Up Secretary said he was sure there would have been “failures” in what was communicated to the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations “at times”.

In May 2020, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson replaced the direction to ‘Stay Home’ to ‘Stay Alert’ to help control the spread of the virus.

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It sparked huge criticism – particularly as it was initially unveiled in a newspaper report - and the devolved governments chose to stick to the original message.

Gove, who was Cabinet Office minister and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when the pandemic began in 2020, said he “did not believe” the Scottish Government was informed in advance of the change.

But he said he didn’t think it resulted in” any particular detriment” to the handling of the pandemic.

Hugo Keith KC, counsel to the inquiry, then pressed him on why “perhaps one of the most important changes in public messaging” during the crisis had not been communicated to the Scottish Government first.

Gove responded: “We communicated a great deal, we didn’t communicate everything to the Scottish Government.

“And I want to be fair – the first thing is there will, I am sure, have been failures in what we communicated to the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations at times.”

He went on: “But it is also the case that the Scottish Government – and I admire the way in which Nicola Sturgeon handled Covid generally – but the Scottish Government is led by a political party that has a desire to generate a particular point, causes for grievance or objection to the UK Government’s constitutional position and policy position.

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“So it will be the case that there will be a temptation for some in the Scottish Government and in the Scottish National Party to exaggerate the impact of a mistake or an error in order to feed a broader political mission.”

Keith asked the UK minister if he acknowledged that the devolved leaders of the time - Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Arlene Forster – all “robustly reject” any notion they acted for political motives.

Gove responded: “I do. But I also think that, again it is a matter of fact, that Mark Drakeford and Arlene Forster belong to political parties that believe in the maintenance of the United Kingdom and Nicola Sturgeon does not.”

However Claire Mitchell KC, representing the Scottish Covid Bereaved, later quizzed him on a document in which she said it appears he was suggesting that the UK Government considers that the pandemic was an “opportunity to emphasise the strength of the Union” and that a “political point could be made”.

She went on: “Was it in fact the UK Government playing politics with the pandemic response?”

Gove denied this was the case, saying: “It is the case that the strength of the United Kingdom in dealing with the pandemic was a material benefit to all the countries within the United Kingdom.”

Mitchell also stated there was a lack of clarity in whether policy applied across the whole of the UK, or exclusively in England.

She continued: "There was little attempt to outline what applied UK-wide. 

"The phrase 'this country' was employed frequently to mean Great Britain or the UK.

"There wasn't clarity."