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The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP was urged to quit by the SNP leader today after she admitted to travelling by train between Glasgow and London while suffering from coronavirus. Ms Ferrier ignored Covid-19 rules to travel to Parliament on Monday morning despite suffering symptoms, before returning to Scotland on Tuesday after receiving a positive test result.
Ms Sturgeon said she was “struggling to comprehend how anybody could have acted in that way”.
The SNP were informed the MP had broken coronavirus rules on Wednesday but did not suspend her from the party until Thursday night.
Earlier this year, Ms Sturgeon faced an onslaught on criticism when she initially refused to sack her chief medical officer after she too was found to have broken coronavirus rules.
The First Minister backed Dr Catherine Calderwood to stay in her role despite breaching the rules.
She was later forced to resign in the face of rising anger.
Now, the First Minister has refused to guarantee she will sack future SNP rule breakers, saying she will “judge things on their circumstances”.
Ms Sturgeon told Express.co.uk: “I’m not going to start to speculate on things that might happen in the future and what our action might be, as we have to judge things on their circumstances that happen.
“But I would hope we don’t have SNP MPs or MSPs breaching the rules and I would hope that everybody was sticking to them and particularly now be extra sure that they are sticking to them.
“I know none of us are perfect, the rules can be difficult and complicated, there will be occasions where people inadvertently breach rules and you will say to them, okay don’t do it again.
“This was a flagrant and really serious breach of a rule that should not be in any doubt and that is why it is being treated as seriously as it has been.
“But my encouragement to everybody, MPs or MSPs, is to stick by the rules not just because i am saying it but because it is so important to help us get through this pandemic.”
During the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing today, Ms Sturgeon also defended the SNP’s actions over Ms Ferrier’s suspension.
She said: “Trust me it’s one of the easiest things in the world in politics to call for tough consequences when one of your opponents breaks the rules. That’s not hard for any of us.
“The litmus test though is whether you’re prepared to do the same when it’s one of your own breaking the rules.
“And in these abnormal times, when everybody has been asked to difficult things, I think that is more important than ever.
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“That’s why the SNP whip has been withdrawn from Margaret – and that is the most serious sanction a party can impose on an elected representative.
“I have also spoken to her directly and made crystal clear to her that I think she should now resign as an MP.
“Now, people contact me and say, why don’t you just sack her. This is a point I have to make clear – I don’t have the power to force an MP to step down – no party leader has that power.
“But I can make my views known, difficult though it is and I have done so and I hope she will come to the right decision, in the interests of the overall integrity of these vital public health messages.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has criticised the SNP for failing to impose a harsher punishment on Ms Ferrier.
He told Express.co.uk: “The SNP say they only found out about any wrongdoing on Thursday.
“That means we’re supposed to accept that the SNP found out Margaret Ferrier tested positive on Wednesday – and asked nothing.
“The public is expected to believe SNP bosses didn’t think to ask a single question, not one, about when she tested positive, where she had been or who she had been around, despite her appearance in the Commons earlier that week.
“The SNP’s timeline is full of holes and any reasonable person can see that.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also spoke of his fury at her actions.
He told BBC Radio Scotland: “I would say to her that her position isn’t tenable, given the circumstances that we’re in, and she has to accept her own responsibilities of what she must do. I can’t force that upon her, she is no longer an SNP MP.
“I’m pretty angry at what has happened, it is not acceptable. It’s important that it is beyond reproach that everybody, absolutely everybody, must obey the rules and we have to think about the signal that gives the public and the sacrifices that people are having to make, and it’s in the light of that that Margaret will have to do the right thing.”
Ms Ferrier apologised for flouting the rules and admitted there was “no excuse” for her actions.
She said: “I apologise unreservedly for breaching COVID-19 restrictions by travelling this week when I shouldn’t have. There is no excuse for my actions.
“Despite feeling unwell, I should have self-isolated while waiting for my test result, and I deeply regret my actions.
“I take full responsibility and I would urge everyone not to make the same mistakes I have, and do all they can to help limit the spread of Covid-19.”
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