Johnson challenged at PMQs over Tier 3 escape route and resists calls for circuit break

21 October 2020, 12:27 | Updated: 21 October 2020, 14:25

By Maddie Goodfellow

Boris Johnson today said the way for an area under Tier 3 restrictions to escape to a lower tier is "to get the R number down to one or below" as he resisted fresh calls for a 'circuit break'.

During a fiery Prime Minister's Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "Prime Minister, how does an area which goes into Tier 3 restrictions get out of those restrictions?"

The Prime Minister replied: "The simplest and most effective way for areas to get out of those restrictions is, of course, to get the 'R' down to one or below.

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"I'm very pleased to say that some areas are already having a considerable effect with the measures that they are taking."

On Monday, 1.4 million people in South Yorkshire were told they will join the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester and Lancashire in Tier 3, meaning 7.3 million people, or 13% of England's population, will now be living under the toughest restrictions.

It comes as Boris Johnson stood firm against mayor Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and put the area into a Tier Three lockdown from Friday.

Boris Johnson is set to make a statement on restrictions in South Yorkshire after PMQs.

Boris Johnson clarified that areas will come out of Tier 3 "when they are able to make progress".

Sir Keir said: "Can I press the Prime Minister on that answer - if the infection rate 'R' in a Tier 3 area has not come below one, will it be possible under any circumstances for that area to come out of Tier 3 - if the 'R' hasn't come below one?"

The Prime Minister replied: "Obviously the 'R' is one of the measures that we look at and we'll take a decision based on a number of things, including the 'R', but also of course rates of infection, rates of admission to hospital and other data.

"The most important thing is for areas that do go into Tier 3 - and I'm very grateful to local leadership in the areas that have gone into Tier 3, because it is the right thing for them to do, the right thing for their constituents, the right thing to save lives - when they are able to make progress then, of course, they will come out of Tier 3.

"As he knows full well, the measures that are put in place are reviewed every 28 days."

Sir Keir Starmer said that Tier 3 is a "gateway" to potentially months and months of "agony" from which there is no exit.

He told the Commons: "The widespread fear Prime Minister is that Tier 3 is the worst of all worlds. It brings significant economic harm without getting the virus sufficiently under control to exit Tier 3.

"So, instead of being a solution, Tier 3 is a gateway to weeks and weeks, more likely months and months, of agony from which there's no likely exit. Can the Prime Minister not see the problem if there isn't a clear exit?"

Boris Johnson responded: "I made it absolutely clear that part of the country going into Tier 3 is only in there for 28 days, we will review it after 28 days and areas that have gone into Tier 3, I believe, are already making progress.

"Areas where there are restrictions in place are also showing signs of progress. We are pursuing a local, a regional approach, which is the sensible approach for this country."

Sir Keir Starmer also told Boris Johnson to "stop bargaining with people's lives".

He told the Commons: "On Friday, thousands of people in Greater Manchester - taxi drivers, pub and hospitality workers, people working in betting shops, the self-employed and freelancers will either be out of work or face significant pay cuts, that's the reality on Friday in Greater Manchester.

"But their rent and their mortgage won't be lower, their food and their heating bills won't be lower, and that could last for months. Why can't the Prime Minister and the Chancellor understand this? Stop bargaining with people's lives, stop dividing communities and provide the support that's needed in Manchester."

Boris Johnson responded: "I'm very proud that this Government has already given Greater Manchester £1.1 billion in support for business, £200 million in extra un-ringfenced funding, £50 million to tackle infections in care homes, £20 million for test and trace, another £22 million for local response that we announced yesterday.

"Yesterday the Mayor of Greater Manchester was offered a further £60 million which he turned down with no encouragement, I may say support from (Sir Keir Starmer). So I can tell the House today that that cash will be distributed to the boroughs of Greater Manchester."