NICOLA Sturgeon was told off at the Covid inquiry for a swipe about Brexit – with a lawyer saying she was in a “witness box not a soapbox”.

The former first minister was speaking at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry in London on Thursday morning, as the official probe looked at how different parts of the country were prepared for pandemics.

It emerged in previous inquiry sessions that the UK had shorn emergency planning capacity in 2019 as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit loomed.

Asked by Hugo Keith, lead counsel to the inquiry, whether planning for a no-deal Brexit was a “false economy”, Sturgeon said: “I don’t disagree with that, I think every aspect of Brexit has been a false economy, to put it mildly but that’s another thing altogether.”

Keith interrupted: “Ms Sturgeon, I’m so sorry. That is a witness box, not a soapbox. We can’t have the political debate about Brexit vented here.”

Sturgeon replied: “With respect, I think you are asking me questions here that are very germane to the whole issue. It was deeply regrettable that resources had to be diverted from any other area of work and in particular pandemic preparedness.

“I would also repeat a point that I made earlier on, certainly from the Scottish Government perspective, it was not the case that all preparation around preparedness for a pandemic stopped.”

READ MORE: No Deal Brexit warnings interfered with Scotland's pandemic planning, inquiry told

Speaking earlier in the session, she added: “I was very aware of the necessity to divert resources from other priorities to plan for and look at the potential for a no-deal Brexit. It wasn’t the case, to the best of my memory, that somebody came to me and said, ‘We need to divert resources from pandemic preparedness to this’.

“But I would’ve known that there were many other aspects of emergency planning that had resources diverted from them.

“The Scottish Cabinet discussed no-deal Brexit, Brexit generally and the potential for a no-deal Brexit on many different occasions. Brexit obviously was something that was happening completely against the will of the Scottish Government, so we were not at all happy about what we were having to do.

The National:

“But to put it bluntly, we had no choice because, had a no-deal Brexit happened and there were periods over 2019 where was a distinct possibility, the consequences of that would have been very, very severe.

“The planning assumptions in [the no-deal Brexit plan] Yellowhammer were grim and extremely worrying so we had no alternative but to do that work to the best of our ability and we have limited resources.

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“All governments have limited resources within emergency planning, within that we have limited specialisms and skills in particular areas, so it stands to reason that with so much effort on that there was going to be less resource for other aspects of emergency planning.”

Governments across the UK had prepared for an influenza pandemic, the inquiry heard, which meant they had “inadequate” plans to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Sturgeon said: “There was no set plan into how we dealt with a pandemic that had features and characteristics of flu in terms of transmissibility but also the severity and that what we came to understand of the asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19.”

The former SNP leader also held the position of health secretary in Alex Salmond’s government during the swine flu pandemic in 2009.

Asked about whether planning informed by those experiences helped Scotland’s Covid response, she said: “What happened in swine flu was that as the pandemic, thankfully, turned out to be milder than we had anticipated, there was a period when the Government is trying to make the pandemic fit the plan rather than adapt the plan to the pandemic.”