Regions lead fightback against ‘flawed and unfair’ lockdown rules

15 October 2020, 22:13 | Updated: 15 October 2020, 22:58

A furious Andy Burnham has repeatedly spoken out against further lockdown measures in Manchester
A furious Andy Burnham has repeatedly spoken out against further lockdown measures in Manchester. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Regional leaders are staging a fightback against the government's three-tier lockdown rules which they describe as "flawed and unfair".

A furious Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said on Thursday that he and other local leaders are "unanimously opposed" to putting the region into the highest tier of restrictions, despite having high rates of coronavirus.

During a press conference, Mr Burnham accused the government of treating the people of Manchester as "canaries in the coal mine" for its "experimental regional lockdown strategy".

Clearly outraged by No 10's insistence to place the region into Tier 3 of the Covid Alert Levels, the mayor also accused ministers of using Manchester as a "sacrificial lamb" for the rest of the UK.

The government has repeatedly insisted that a second nationwide lockdown would be disastrous for UK businesses and the economy. Therefore, Mr Burnham used this logic against ministers, saying a stricter lockdown would likewise be perilous for Manchester's businesses.

Read more: Manchester leaders 'unanimously oppose' tier three Covid restrictions

Watch: Senior Tory MP vows to speak out against Tier 3 lockdown in Manchester

He said: "It is wrong to place some of the poorest parts of England in a punishing lockdown without proper support for the people and businesses affected."

Even Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested that shutdowns cause "economic pain".

But speaking during the Commons on Thursday, he appeared to take a swipe at the mayor by thanking the leaders of Manchester's old rival Liverpool for their "public service and cross-party teamwork" in agreeing to adhere to the strictest lockdown measures.

He added that "discussions are ongoing" with local leaders on moving areas classed as high to very high.

Read more: London to enter Tier 2 of Covid restrictions from midnight on Friday

Explained: When does London's tier two lockdown start? What are the restrictions?

Even Tory MP Sir Graham Brady vowed to speak out against the government if it subjects Manchester to Tier 3 lockdown measures.

He told LBC's Iain Dale he will "stand firm" against such a proposal and will "absolutely" reject it.

It comes following the announcement that the capital will be moved into Tier 2 lockdown restrictions from Saturday, a move that was more warmly welcomed by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

He said the move was needed to “save lives” in the city and was "necessary in order to protect Londoners” - a far cry from his Manchester counterpart's response.

London will be joined by Essex, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, York, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield in moving up a tier - meaning half the country will be under stricter restrictions by the weekend.

The introduction of tougher measures in the capital does somewhat undermine Mr Burnham's previous allegations of a north-south divide response to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, him branding the policy as "ill-thought-through" does appear to have substance.

Nickie Aiken MP for Cities of London and Westminster underlined this when writing for LBC earlier on Thursday.

She said tougher restrictions in the city were a "major concern" on people's mental health, jobs and livelihoods.

"This crisis has already brought many of our businesses to their knees, and I urge the government to consider further financial support and incentives as London moves into this higher tier before they disappear for good," she wrote.

Ms Aiken concluded: "We must now urgently come up with a clear plan and timetable to get the capital back into Tier 1, as soon as it is right to do so."

On Thursday, Mr Burnham told a press briefing: "I've said it may be that we need to look at a national circuit-break as preferable to this unfunded, risky regional lockdown strategy.

"We have to protect the health of the nation but let's do it as one nation, and not make the North of England the sacrificial lamb for an ill-thought-through Downing Street policy which doesn't make sense in the real world."

The mayor said the government was "treating us with contempt", adding: "People are fed up of being treated in this way, the North is fed up of being pushed around.

"We aren't going to be pushed around any more."

He argued it would "cost less to support people now rather than let businesses go to the wall" and damage the speed of the post-Covid economic recovery.

However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock responded by saying local leaders in Greater Manchester should put "party politics aside" and agree extra measures for the area to control the virus.

Mr Hancock said he believes the situation is "severe" in region, stating "we must act".

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