Labour accused of playing politics ahead of Commons vote on Tiers

1 December 2020, 10:07 | Updated: 1 December 2020, 10:26

Sir Keir Starmer told Labour MPs to abstain
Sir Keir Starmer told Labour MPs to abstain. Picture: PA

The PM is facing rising anger from MPs about England's plans for new covid tiers, which are set to come into force tomorrow and will leave 99 per cent of the country under the toughest two levels.

The Government is expected to win Tuesday's Commons vote on the new rules despite Labour saying it would abstain.

Sir Keir Starmer - who has previously backed Government measures - said while his party had "serious misgivings" it would not be in the national interest to vote them down when the virus still posed a "serious risk".

After Sir Kier's announcement, a No10 spokesman said: "This pandemic is one of the biggest challenges facing the country in decades and Labour have decided to abstain on it.

"While Keir Starmer claims he offers new leadership, it's clear to all that he actually offers no leadership at all.

"Keir Starmer is playing politics in the middle of a global pandemic instead of working with the Government to find a way through this difficult time for the British people."

Michael Gove this morning defended the tier system on LBC, saying the new tiers of Covid restrictions are necessary to stop the virus "running riot" over the winter.

However, with scores of Conservative MPs deeply unhappy at the extent of the restrictions, the vote is likely to throw Tory divisions into sharp relief.

Many backbenchers are furious their constituencies face stricter controls than before the latest lockdown which ends on Wednesday.

At a No 10 news conference on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped some areas could be moved into lower tiers when the restrictions come up for their first fortnightly review on December 16.

But scientists advising the Government have made clear they see little scope for any widespread easing before Christmas.

It could mean most areas of England will go into the new year in one of the toughest two tiers with a ban on households mixing indoors and strict controls on the hospitality sector.

Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have been designated for the lightest Tier 1 restrictions.

Meanwhile, the Government said a rapid coronavirus test that gives results in 20 minutes has been confirmed as having high sensitivity to the virus.

An evaluation carried out by NHS trusts and universities found the OptiGene RT-Lamp test to be effective in identifying infectious cases, including for people not displaying symptoms, in contrast to a report by the Guardian earlier this month claiming the test identified only 46.7% of infections during a trial in Manchester and Salford.

It comes as the head of operations for the mass community testing programme, General Sir Gordon Messenger, said the scheme may not be able to reach areas in Tier 3 until "January and beyond".

The Government said a further 205 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 58,448.

On Monday the Government published its promised impact assessment of the health, economic, and social effects of the pandemic and its tiered approach.

But while it acknowledged there would be "significant costs" to individuals, society and the economy, it said the consequences for public health in allowing the virus to run unchecked would be "much worse".

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It said that without strong measures in place, the R number - the rate of reproduction of the virus - was likely to rise significantly above 1, leaving the NHS unable to cope.

However Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Research Group of Tory MPs opposed to tougher restrictions, said the document acknowledged the "precise size and duration" of any breach in the capacity of the NHS to cope was "not possible to predict".

There was frustration among MPs that the analysis did not include a detailed breakdown of the effects of the measures on different sectors of the economy - particularly hospitality, which has been among the hardest hit.

Some relief was offered for drinkers hoping to get around restrictions in Tier 2, with Cabinet minister George Eustice saying that ordering a Scotch egg with a pint would constitute a "substantial meal" under the rules which will only allow alcohol to be served with food in Tier 2 areas from Wednesday.