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SIR KEIR STARMER warned today that the government’s lack of an exit strategy for regions in harsh local lockdowns will cause “prolonged agony” for millions of people.
During Prime Minister’s Questions, the Labour leader repeated his call for a short, national “circuit-breaker” lockdown to replace PM Boris Johnson’s poorly funded patchwork of regional measures.
Sir Keir asked for details of how regions under Tier-2 and Tier-3 lockdowns — areas on “high” and “very high” alert respectively — would be released from harsh restrictions, which at Tier 3 include a ban on household mixing and the closure of pubs and bars.
Mr Johnson claimed that the “simplest and most effective way” would be to get the virus’s R rate — the average number of people that one infected person is likely to pass the virus on to —to 1 or below. The latest national R rate was between 1.3 and 1.5.
The PM later shifted to say that the R rate is “one of the measures” considered to make a decision, in addition to rates of infection, rates of admission to hospital and “other data.” He noted that the restrictions in England are reviewed every 28 days.
Sir Keir said that the answer risked confusing millions of people under, or at risk of, Tier-3 restrictions.
He pointed out that the government’s own chief scientific officer said on Friday that a Tier-3 lockdown alone is not enough to get the R rate below 1.
Sir Keir said: “On the same day, the Prime Minister himself said that there was only a chance of [Tier-3 lockdowns] getting infection rates down.”
The Labour leader went on to describe Tier 3 as “the worst of all worlds” as it “brings significant economic harm without getting the virus sufficiently under control to exit Tier 3.”
He also referred to Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham’s forlorn fight to get full government funding for locked-down businesses.
The Labour mayor wanted a minimum of £65 million to support Greater Manchester through a Tier-3 lockdown, which it enters at midnight tonight, but the Tories would only offer £60m — later walking away and reducing it to £22m.
In the Commons, Mr Johnson said that the £60m would now be “distributed to the boroughs of Greater Manchester” — money he accused Mr Burnham of “turning down” during the talks.
The PM said that Sir Keir was calling for “damaging lockdown for weeks on end,” adding that he “has no clue about how he would propose to get the country out of that.”
Sir Keir slammed Mr Johnson for the “miserly way that he has treated Greater Manchester” and the “grubby take-it-or-leave-it way that these local deals are being done.”
“So there is a stark choice: carry on with the Prime Minister’s approach, which will lead to weeks and weeks and months and months of prolonged agony in everyone’s constituencies for millions of people in Tiers 2 and 3, with no exit.
“Or put in place a two- to three-week, time-limited circuit break, to break the cycle and bring the virus back under control.”
Labour’s motion calling on the government to publish “clear and fair national criteria” for financial support for businesses facing additional Covid-19 restrictions was rejected in the Commons by a vote of 261 to 340.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said of the vote: “The government had a chance to fix its shambolic approach to supporting areas moving into Tier 3. It said no.
“The Prime Minister said that those on the lowest salaries would get 80 per cent of their salary. But by voting against our motion he has blocked huge numbers of workers facing hardship from getting the support they need.
“Boris Johnson promised to deliver for the North and the Midlands, but he’s let them down in the middle of a pandemic.”
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