Andy Burnham blames Chancellor in Greater Manchester lockdown row

18 October 2020, 07:00 | Updated: 18 October 2020, 12:09

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaking to the media outside the Central Library
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaking to the media outside the Central Library. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Mayor Andy Burnham has blamed Chancellor Rishi Sunak for being "the problem" in the row over a lockdown for Greater Manchester, as confusion was cast over talks with Downing Street.

The feud between No 10 and the Labour mayor continued on Saturday after Downing Street said fresh talks had been set up for the weekend, only for Mr Burnham's office to deny this.

Mr Burnham and Conservative politicians in Greater Manchester oppose Tier 3 measures being imposed, with the mayor calling for greater financial support for workers and businesses.

Read more: Protesters march through London against Tier 2 restrictions

Read more: Long arm of the law: Covid App users to be tracked by police

He has called for a return to the generosity of the original furlough scheme that saw the Treasury pay 80% of workers wages, but Mr Sunak has only offered a 66% subsidy for those whose firms forced to shut by Tier 3 measures.

The Greater Manchester mayor told the New Statesman magazine: "I think the problem now is, to a large degree, the Chancellor. I think he's made wrong judgements throughout this."

Bishop of Manchester on lockdown in city

He criticised the Eat Out to Help Out meal subsidy scheme as a "poor judgment", and added: "The cost of that should have been paying for the furlough now."

But he insisted, during the interview conducted on Friday, that the failure ultimately lies with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister: "He shouldn't be allowing the Treasury to run the policy".

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove hit back at the Mayor, accusing him of political positioning and insisting the Government wants to reach an agreement.

He said: "I want them to put aside some of the political positioning they've been indulging in, and I want them to work with us in order to ensure that we save lives and protect the NHS."

The Mayor revealed this morning that he will be having a call with the Prime Minister's chief strategic adviser Sir Edward Lister over lockdown restrictions later on Sunday.

Mr Burnham and council leaders have insisted they "are ready to meet at any time" in order to broker an agreement with No 10 but there was a failure in communication on Saturday.

Northern leaders “unanimously oppose" Tier 3 Covid restrictions

Downing Street indicated a call had been scheduled for Sunday morning after a message was left with Mr Burnham.

But a spokesman for the mayor said: "Nothing has yet been arranged."

A Downing Street source responded: "No 10 reached out this morning to try and arrange a meeting with the Mayor of Manchester.

"We will continue to try and reach an agreement on these difficult, yet necessary, measures to protect the NHS and the people of Manchester."

But Mr Johnson on Friday threatened to impose measures without local support as he warned that "time is of the essence" and that "tragically more people will die" with each day of delay.

The row rumbled on as new controls came into force on Saturday, including in Lancashire and London, meant 28 million people, more than half of England, are living under heightened restrictions.

PM: I will intervene if agreement with Manchester leaders not reached

Mr Johnson has been under increased pressure to accept a short national lockdown known as a "circuit-breaker" to get a grip on the resurgence of Covid-19.

Government adviser Sir John Bell, the regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, told the BB the national measure might be needed, potentially even including a two-week closure of schools in England.

Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt added he had "sympathy" for the measure, which has been suggested by Labour and the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

The Prime Minister has been favouring local measures to try to slow the spread of the disease, but on Friday acknowledged he "can't rule anything out" in taking national action.

Lancashire joined the Liverpool region in entering Tier 3 on Saturday, meaning with pubs and bars closed unless they can serve meals and household mixing banned indoors and in gardens.

Tier 2 measures were also introduced in London, Essex, York, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield.

Liverpool City Region Mayor convinced Andy Burnham and PM will agree

They prohibit people mixing inside with those from other households, including in pubs and restaurants, renewing calls from businesses for greater financial support.

The British Chambers of Commerce told the Prime Minister that any new lockdown restrictions must come with "truly commensurate" financial support or risk "catastrophic economic consequences".

In a letter to Mr Johnson on Saturday, they raised particular concern about the Tier 2 restrictions imposed on London and other areas on Saturday because they "dramatically" hamper businesses without extra support.

In other developments:

- There were a further 16,171 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK and an extra 150 deaths of people who had tested positive in the past 28 days, according to Government figures, which put the total at 43,579.

- Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said his brother has died after being admitted to intensive care with Covid-19.

- Wales will have a two-week circuit breaker imposed next week, according to a leaked letter from the Confederation of Passenger Transport.