Duke and Duchess of Cambridge accused of ignoring COVID travel advice during tour to Scotland

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·4 min read

Watch: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive in Edinburgh

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been accused of ignoring travel advice on their visit to Scotland at the end of 2020 as part of their Royal Train tour.

The couple spent three days travelling around the country in December to thank key workers and volunteers for their work during the pandemic.

The trip was made while London was still in Tier 2, and allowed travel.

At the time they did receive a somewhat frosty reception from leaders in the devolved nations, and now emails released via a Freedom of Information request show they were warned the event would probably have to be postponed.

One email, sent two weeks before the trip, told the royals’ team that restrictions on travel across the border was “obviously likely to have a major impact on the plans you are working on”.

Emails obtained by The National in Scotland show John Somers, Nicola Sturgeon’s private secretary, told the royal household: “You'll know that we are currently asking people living in Scotland to avoid unnecessary travel from local authority to local authority and to keep journeys within the area they live to an absolute minimum.

“We review our guidance regularly though as the First Minister regularly says in her daily briefings it not possible to offer a definite position ahead of time given the variables and unknowns presented by the pandemic.

“From a personal point of view I think the [Royal train tour] is one which would will mean a lot to many people living throughout the country. My anxiety though is the practical aspects of it and how presentationally it may be difficult if travel restrictions are in place.

“I think my view is that at the moment the chances of the tour having to be postponed are potentially quite high.”

Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (C) and Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (R) speak with Deputy Lord Lieutenant Sandra Cumming (L) after disembarking the Royal train as they arrive at Edinburgh Waverley station for a visit to the Scottish Ambulance Service in Newbridge, Edinburgh in Scotland  on December 7, 2020, on their first full day of engagements on their tour of the UK. - During their trip, their Royal Highnesses hope to pay tribute to individuals, organisations and initiatives across the country that have gone above and beyond to support their local communities this year. (Photo by Andy BARR / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BARR/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
William and Kate with Deputy Lord Lieutenant Sandra Cumming after disembarking the Royal train as they arrive at Edinburgh Waverley station in December 2020. (AFP)
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (2nd L) and Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (L) speak with staff during a visit to the Scottish Ambulance Service Response Centre in Newbridge, west of Edinburgh in Scotland on December 7, 2020, on their first full day of engagements on their tour of the UK. - During their trip, their Royal Highnesses hope to pay tribute to individuals, organisations and initiatives across the country that have gone above and beyond to support their local communities this year. (Photo by Wattie Cheung / POOL / AFP) (Photo by WATTIE CHEUNG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
William and Kate visited the Scottish Ambulance Service Response Centre in Newbridge, west of Edinburgh. (AFP)

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And in another email on 19 November, James Hynd, the Scottish government’s head of cabinet, parliament and governance, said: “The Scottish Government is likely to bring forward statutory restrictions on non-essential travel both within Scotland and also into and out of Scotland.

“These rules will come into force from 6pm tomorrow (Friday, November 20). They will have no set termination point but will be reviewed regularly.

“This is obviously likely to have a major impact on the plans you are working on I am afraid.”

The National said the emails suggested the royals had ignored the advice they were offered.

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William, 38, and Kate, 39, made Edinburgh their first stop on their tour, which then included Cardiff, Batley and other towns and cities across Britain.

In December, royal sources said the visits were planned in consultation with the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments.

They stressed that travelling across the border is permitted for work purposes, and that the duke and duchess went to Scotland to carry out their work thanking frontline workers.

Asked about the visit the day the royals arrived, Sturgeon said: “The royal visit is a matter for the royal household and the arrangements around it, and any questions about those arrangements, should be directed to the royal household.

“The Scottish Government was advised about the intention to visit, and we made sure that the royal household were aware, as you would expect, of all of the restrictions in place in Scotland, so that could inform both the decision and the planning of the visit.

“But I think any questions about that should be directed to the royal household.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson was initially reluctant to support the trip as well, but in a quick turnaround, Johnson gave his backing to the couple.

Having suggested the trip was a “matter for the palace”, Johnson then welcomed the “morale boost” of the three-day tour.