Prime Minister tells Keir Starmer to convince Northern leaders to agree to 'the most stringent measures' to tackle coronavirus

Boris Johnson has urged Sir Keir Starmer to “get on to” Labour metro mayors and council leaders in the North to get them to agree to stricter coronavirus restrictions.

During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Sir Keir pushed Mr Johnson to adopt a national circuit-breaker lockdown to quell the rising cases of coronavirus.

But the PM defended his regional approach, which he revealed on Monday, and said: “We want to put in the most stringent measures necessary in the places where the virus is surging in order to get it down where it surging, that is the logical thing to do.

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“So will he get on to his Labour friends in those parts of the North of England where we want to work with them to put those very stringent measures in place in order to deliver the reductions that the whole country wants to see?”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Photo: PAPrime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Photo: PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Photo: PA

Leaders in Leeds revealed on Tuesday that they were in discussion with the Government on going into the highest tier of restrictions, Tier 3, where household mixing is banned and businesses such as pubs would be forced to close.

Bradford MP Naz Shah confirmed in the Commons that leaders in her city had also been approached for talks, while Sheffield’s Director of Public Health Greg Fell said it was a matter of “when, not if” Tier 3 restrictions are introduced there.

Currently all of West and South Yorkshire are under Tier 2, where household mixing is banned indoors, while North Yorkshire and Hull and the East Riding are under the lowest band of Tier 1, where only the previous restrictions of a 10pm curfew on hospitality applies.

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But the Government made clear on Tuesday that if local leaders did not agree with their assessment that stricter measures were needed, they could be imposed without their consultation.

Mr Johnson told the Commons today that he has been advised that a “regional approach” to tackling Covid will “bring down the virus.”

He said: “We will do whatever it takes to fight this virus and to defeat it.

“But since he (Keir Starmer) quotes the Sage advice I might just remind him that on page one it says that all the interventions considered have associated costs in terms of health and wellbeing and that policymakers will need to consider announcements and economic impacts and the associated harms alongside this epidemiological assessment.

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“And the advice that I have today is that if we do the regional approach that commended itself to the House, and indeed to the right honourable gentleman (Keir Starmer) on Monday, we can bring down the arc and we can bring down the virus.”

But Sir Keir accused the Prime Minister of being “behind the curve again”.

Sir Keir said: “He probably hasn’t noticed that this morning, the council leaders in Greater Manchester that he’s just quoted, including the mayor and including the Conservative leader of Bolton Council, have said in a press statement that they support a circuit-break above Tier 3 restrictions. Keep up Prime Minister.

“The big problem the Prime Minister has, and it is from the Sage minutes that make it absolutely clear that his two main policies – track and trace and local restrictions – simply haven’t worked. And we can’t stand by.”

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He said a circuit-break was in the “national interest”, adding: “We are at a tipping point, time is running out, maybe he can seize the moment and answer a question – this morning the Telegraph quotes senior Government sources saying the chances of the Prime Minister backing a circuit-break in the next two weeks are about 80 per cent.

“Is that right? And if it is, why doesn’t he do it now, save lives, fix testing and protect the NHS?”

Boris Johnson replied: “(Sir Keir) claims to be supporting the Government one day, and then performs a dramatic U-turn the next.”

The Prime Minister added: “Everybody can see what he’s doing. Labour have said it themselves, they see this as a good crisis for the Labour Party and one they wish to exploit – we see this as a national crisis that we are going to turn around.”

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Mr Johnson also noted: “I rule out nothing, of course, in combating the virus but we’re going to do it with the local, regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus if it is properly implemented.”

He added: “None of us want to see the disaster – the words of the shadow health spokesman (Jon Ashworth) – of a national lockdown.

“We don’t want to go there, we want the regional approach.”