THE UK government has performed a crucial U-turn and pledged to make funding available to the devolved nations to fight the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The news comes just two weeks after the Tory government rejected pleas from the first ministers of Scotland and Wales to confirm that financial support schemes would be funded by the Treasury if Omicron meant “more interventionist measures are required”.

At the time, the devolved nations said it would “be better to consider this now, in advance of a potential escalation in the seriousness of the situation, to support effective planning”.

Despite the joint calls from the Welsh and Scottish governments, the UK Conservative government rejected the idea after just a few hours.

Earlier today Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan had said a "full lockdown" in Wales would be difficult without the support of the UK government.

However, just moments before Nicola Sturgeon was due to address the Scottish Parliament today about guidance to be issued to Scots over the Christmas period, the Treasury announced a U-turn.

In a press release published on the UK government’s website, the Treasury said “additional funding from the UK Reserve will be made available to the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to progress their vaccine rollout and wider health response”.

It added that these funds would “provide greater certainty and allow them to plan as they tackle Covid-19 during the crucial weeks ahead”.

“HM Treasury will set this amount of additional funding in the coming days and will keep it under review in the following weeks.”

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More details of the cash is expected to be revealed in the coming days, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak insisted: “Throughout this pandemic, the United Kingdom has stood together as one family, and we will continue to do so.

“We are working with the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to drive the vaccine roll-out to all corners of the United Kingdom and ensure people and businesses all across the country are supported.”

However, the top Tories' narrative was contradicted by Scotland's first minister, who said that "as far as we can tell" the offered additional funding is no such thing.

Taking to Twitter after speaking in Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon wrote: "This news came while I was in the chamber. We are still awaiting all the the detail but as far as we can tell so far, this funding is not ‘additional’. I hope I’m wrong."

In the Holyrood chamber she described the announcement as "good progress" and told MSPs her government would “look at the impact of the UK funding when we have the detail of that”.

She also shared a post from Scotsman journalist Conor Matchett, who had speculated that the funding was not additional, but "instead, it's an advance on expected Barnett consequentials coming in the new year".

He added: "Sounds like if Scot Gov get more than they're due, they'll have to pay back the difference."

However, the Treasury said that any "additional in-year Barnett funding will not be confirmed until early 2022 through the Supplementary Estimates process", insisting that it had "therefore announced that additional funding will be made available".

It is the second U-turn in the space of a few days - after Michael Gove chaired a Cobra meeting with the devolved leaders on Friday despite the UK government having previously rapidly rejected requests for such a meeting.

It comes as Nicola Sturgeon criticised the Tory government in her Covid statement for failing to provide the funding needed to allow the Scottish Government to fight Omicron as they would like.

Sturgeon told MSPs that Scotland’s response to the pandemic was being “curtailed” by the UK Government’s control over the purse strings.

She said that there would have been “further steps” to fight the spread of Omicron if the Scottish Government had the funding to do so, “but we don’t”.

People in Scotland have been urged to cancel work Christmas parties, prompting fears over the impact on the hospitality sector.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had found “around £100 million that we will use to help businesses” that are affected.

But she added that because the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments are not able to borrow cash to help them tackle the virus, they were forced to “rely on the Treasury”.

The first minister continued: “Because the UK government is at this stage not proposing any further protections – a position I do not agree with – there is no funding generated to compensate businesses for any protections we think are necessary and wish to put in place.

“That is not acceptable in current circumstances and, with the Welsh and Northern Irish governments, we are pressing for a fairer approach that takes account of our devolved responsibilities for protecting public health.

“But for now, this is the situation we are in, and it means our public health response is curtailed by lack of finance.”

Additional reporting by Katrine Bussey, PA Scotland Political Editor

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