MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: PM must reunite fractured kingdom

MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Boris Johnson will need all his skills to reunite our fractured kingdom

National crises usually bring us together. As a country we are famous for our unity in times of peril. 

But this crisis is pulling us apart. 

One of the most distressing effects of seven months of lockdowns, restrictions, working from home and travel bans has been the sharpening division of this once United Kingdom.

As the coronavirus crisis pulls the United Kingdom apart, Boris Johnson must consider an alternative approach in which we can live with the virus without wrecking our society

For the first time since the launch of the great experiment in devolution, the governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh have had the full freedom to act independently from London. 

It is hard not to suspect that Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have seen this as an opportunity to show their paces and to emphasise the differences between their nations and England. 

Ms Sturgeon seeks at all times to reopen the issue of independence, and her tactical skill in this has certainly succeeded in worrying some members of the Westminster government. 

Sometimes it has seemed as if London has taken its lead from Edinburgh, for fear of allowing too large a gap to open up. 

Like most concessions to nationalism, this has fed rather than soothed the separatist cause. 

The radical closedown in Wales has led to informal police checks between England and the principality, which we hope are not the first spectral signs of a future frontier.  

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s own skills at raising the issue of independence has some members of Government worried in Westminster

Even in long-devolved Northern Ireland, with its own difficulties, the Stormont government has faced pressures to act in concert with Dublin nearly as much as with London. 

There are special problems in living just across a wholly open border with an independent nation. 

But there have been new divisions within England itself. North and South have been shouting at each other over the ferocity of lockdowns and the readiness of London, far away in the South East, to compensate those affected. 

The old trans-Pennine rivalry has also flickered into life with Manchester’s Andrew Burnham making a fierce stand against the Premier, and Sheffield negotiating an amicable agreement. 

But the splits are not just geographical. 

Those who can work from home have felt the crisis far less than those who must be physically present to do their jobs. 

Those who have benefited from the furlough scheme are separated from those who are not. 

Public sector workers, safe from the cold winds of the market, do not fear for their pay and pensions, and certainly have little understanding of the plight of small, independent businesses. 

Those who live in comfortable houses with gardens can endure isolation and curfews far more easily than families crammed into highrise apartments or living in treeless terraces far from open space. 

Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, brought in a ‘fire break,’ lockdown on Friday that have led to informal police checks between England and the principality

Those who already have their school and college years far behind them are barely aware of the damage done to young lives by the closures of schools and the severe limitations now placed on university courses and student life. 

There have been many very separate lockdowns, and a beautiful summer intensified the differences between them. 

But now winter approaches and with it the huge economic and health consequences of the Government’s policies that face us all. 

We must hope that, as we have repeatedly urged, Boris Johnson will at last consider an alternative approach, through which we can learn to live with this virus and to fight its dangers without wrecking our society and our economy. 

We also trust that he can use his undoubted talents to reunite a fractured kingdom as he rebuilds and repairs it. 

We can all agree on the noble goals of health, prosperity and freedom 

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