Second national lockdown would be 'enormously damaging', chancellor warns

20 October 2020, 14:52

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A second nationwide lockdown "would be enormously damaging" for people's jobs and livelihoods, Rishi Sunak has warned.

The chancellor also failed to rule out more stringent coronavirus restrictions despite issuing a warning over the "economic damage" lockdowns can cause.

Mr Sunak was being grilled by MPs on Tuesday on the idea of imposing a short "circuit-breaker" after Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared he would "rule out nothing" when asked about the possibility of such a measure being introduced.

Speaking in the Commons, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds asked her rival whether he would personally rule one out.

"Of course, I agree with the prime minister," the minister replied.

The Labour MP warned that failing to implement a circuit-breaker now "could cost our economy £110 billion".

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak issued a warning over a second national lockdown while speaking in the Commons
Chancellor Rishi Sunak issued a warning over a second national lockdown while speaking in the Commons. Picture: UK Parliament

She then asked the chancellor whether he had estimated the costs of not implementing harsher restrictions nationally.

Mr Sunak said: "The honourable lady talks about a rolling programme. It's very clear that the party opposite thinks we should have a rolling programme of national lockdowns.

"What I can tell her is that would be enormously damaging for people's jobs and livelihoods, causing unnecessary pain and suffering in parts of the country where the virus prevalence is low.

"Localised approach is the best approach."

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Earlier, Labour's Emma Lewell-Buck warned: "Repeated local lockdowns with no end in sight is killing our economy in South Shields.

"In the last lockdown, we received £26 million of support. I've been advised the financial package offered to us this time, should we end up in Tier 3, will be just over £1 million.

"Can he confirm or deny this insulting amount?"

Mr Sunak replied: "I'm glad (Ms Lewell-Buck) recognises the economic damage that lockdowns do, which is why when we had this debate last week I did pose the question as to why (Labour) was suggesting a national lockdown with no end in sight, without commenting on the damage it'd do to people's jobs and livelihoods."

Mr Sunak said a national funding formula provides a per capita amount to local authorities of up to £8 per head in the highest tier to support enforcement, compliance and track and trace.

Further support is also offered to businesses and workers, Mr Sunak said.

The Chancellor was later told his employment support schemes "have more holes than a Swiss cheese".

Shadow Treasury minister Bridget Phillipson said: "In March, the Chancellor was clear that if people couldn't earn a living by going out to work it was the government's job to step in, whatever it takes.

"By July, he was moving away from that belief and today he has moved so far that his employment support schemes have more holes than a Swiss cheese.

"Can he tell the House, was he wrong in March? Or is he wrong now?"

Mr Sunak replied: "I did say we would do what it takes and I think £200 billion later and almost nine million jobs protected is evidence that we have done and we will continue to do what it takes to protect this economy and people's livelihoods."

Labour MP Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) also pressed Mr Sunak on whether he could live on two-thirds of the minimum wage.

She said: "Is he happy to see 1.8 million jobs go? And could he live on two-thirds of the minimum wage? If not, he should extend the furlough scheme now for the industries that desperately need it."

Mr Sunak responded: "When we announced the jobs support scheme, it was in fact warmly welcomed by several business groups and indeed the trade union who I was happy to work with in designing the scheme.

"I'd say to (Ms Sultana) I take the issue of jobs very seriously, it remains my highest priority, and whilst I cannot protect every single job, we will throw absolutely everything that we can at protecting and saving and creating as many jobs as possible, which is why we have a comprehensive plan for jobs."

Conservative former minister Caroline Nokes urged the chancellor not to just "balance the books" and instead to provide more support to businesses in Tier 1 which are still unable to open.

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