The Scottish National party has suspended one of its MPs, who was facing calls to resign after taking a train from London to Scotland knowing she had tested positive for Covid-19.
Margaret Ferrier, the SNP MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, apologised unreservedly for major breaches of Covid regulations. It emerged that it was nearly two days after receiving the positive result when she told her party whip.
On Saturday she began suffering symptoms of the virus and took a test. Despite this, she travelled 400 miles to London by train on Monday – a journey lasting five hours and 40 minutes – to attend parliament, where she made a brief speech in the evening during a debate on coronavirus.
That evening she was also told she had tested positive for the virus. It is unclear whether she was told that before or after she spoke in parliament about the replacement of the furlough scheme.
The following morning, Tuesday, she travelled by train to Scotland without seeking advice but knowing she had the virus. The Guardian understands that Ferrier told the SNP’s chief whip, Patrick Grady, that a family member was unwell and was given the requisite permission to leave parliament. She has been self-isolating at home since then. On Wednesday afternoon, she told Grady that she had tested positive for coronavirus herself, but it was assumed that the test had been done when she returned to Scotland. It was only on Thursday that it emerged that she had in fact been tested on Saturday. It is also understood that the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was told about Ferrier’s actions following FMQs on Thursday afternoon.
The mood within the SNP Westminster group was described as one of “disbelief and fury” on Thursday night as colleagues absorbed the news. Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Commons leader, said he had removed the party whip from Ferrier and that she had referred herself to the parliamentary standards commissioners and police.
Sturgeon, the party’s leader, tweeted: “This is utterly indefensible. It’s hard to express just how angry I feel on behalf of people across the country making hard sacrifices every day to help beat Covid. The rules apply to everyone and they’re in place to keep people safe.”
Police Scotland suggested Ferrier could soon face an investigation and a possible fine. A spokesman said: “We are aware of the circumstances and are liaising with our colleagues in the Metropolitan police.”
The train drivers’ union, Aslef, described her actions as “both dangerous and disgraceful” and called on her to reveal which trains she took. The Commons authorities said that one person had been identified as a close contact and was now self-isolating.
In a statement, Ferrier said speaking in parliament after suffering symptoms of the virus “was wrong, and I am very sorry for my mistake”. And on travelling by train after testing positive, she said: “This was also wrong and I am sorry.”
She added: “I have used Test and Protect and I have notified the House of Commons authorities, who have spoken with Public Health England. I have also notified the police of my actions.
“Despite feeling well, 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 that I have, and do all they can to help limit the spread of Covid-19.”
Ferrier was one of many MPs to call for Dominic Cummings to resign after the Guardian and Daily Mirror revealed that he had travelled to Durham after his wife became ill with suspected coronavirus and the day before he also fell ill.
At the time, she said: “Dominic Cummings’ actions have undermined the sacrifices that we have all been making in lockdown to protect each other from coronavirus. His position is untenable and he must be removed from his post now.”
She added: “The public health advice is crystal clear. For the safety of others, anyone with coronavirus symptoms must self-isolate, in line with government guidance. They should not leave the house for any reason.”
There was widespread criticism of Ferrier and calls for her resignation. Douglas Ross MP, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who resigned from Boris Johnson’s government over Cummings’ behaviour during the lockdown, said Ferrier should go “with immediate effect”.
Ferrier’s actions emerged after the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North in London, and Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, were both forced to apologise on Thursday for separate breaches of coronavirus restrictions.
Corbyn was pictured with his wife, Laura Alvarez, at a dinner party for nine people, breaching the England-wide rule that only six people can meet indoors or outdoors. The penalty for the breach is a £200 fine. He told the Sun, which published the photograph: “I understand that remaining at the dinner was a breach of the rule of six. I apologise for my mistake.”
Stanley Johnson expressed regret for breaching the rules on face masks after he was pictured in the Daily Mirror browsing in a newsagent without a face covering.
Johnson said he may not be “100% up to speed” with the rules having just returned from three weeks abroad, though wearing a face covering in shops has been compulsory since 24 July. He previously made headlines after travelling to his home in Greece in July, in a breach of Foreign Office guidance at the time to avoid non-essential travel.
On Wednesday Boris Johnson reiterated the need for the public to follow restrictions at a sombre press conference where he confronted critics of his coronavirus strategy, insisting there was “only one way of doing this”.
Ferrier, 60, a former sales supervisor, became an MP in 2015 before losing her seat in 2017 and being re-elected last year.
The Labour MP Ian Murray said she showed “astonishing recklessness”, adding: “She has put passengers, rail staff, fellow MPs, Commons staff and many others at unacceptable risk. To breach the rules twice is simply unforgivable, and has undermined all the sacrifices made by her constituents.”
The Scottish Conservatives’ Holyrood leader, Ruth Davidson, said knowingly taking public transport after testing positive for Covid-19 put lives at risk.