Sir Keir Starmer calls for 'two to three-week circuit break' national lockdown

13 October 2020, 17:10 | Updated: 13 October 2020, 20:25

By Megan White

Sir Keir Starmer has called for a two to three-week "circuit break" national lockdown after the Prime Minister rejected the request from his top scientists.

The Labour leader said the figures are "stark and heading in the wrong direction," adding that the Government has "lost control of the virus" and is "no longer following scientific advice."

Sir Keir said a circuit breaker would not mean closing schools, but would mean only essential travel, people working from home where possible, and closing pubs, bars and restaurants.

He said there is "no longer time to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. The Government’s plan simply isn’t working. Another course is needed."

Read more: PM goes against experts to reject 'circuit breaker' coronavirus lockdown

Directly addressing Boris Johnson, Sir Keir urged him to "act now and break the cycle."

Last month, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) suggested immediately introducing a national lockdown lasting between two and three weeks to halt the rapid spread of the virus - dubbed a "circuit break" lockdown.

But as Mr Johnson laid out his plans for how to tackle the rapidly growing numbers of coronavirus cases whilst keeping as much of the economy open as possible, the PM only imposed stricter measures on Merseyside and appeared adamant to continue localised lockdowns.

He appeared to reject the idea of sweeping national measures when he laid out the new tiered system of restrictions on Monday, which includes the widespread closure of the hospitality sector and banning social interactions between households at its toughest level.

On Tuesday, the Labour leader said: “That’s why I am calling for a two-to-three week circuit break in England in line with SAGE’s recommendation.

“A temporary set of clear and effective restrictions designed to get the R rate down and reverse the trend of infections and hospital admissions.

“This would not mean closing schools. But if this happens imminently….it can be timed to run across half-term to minimise disruption. But a circuit break would require significant sacrifices across the country.

“It would mean only essential work and travel. That everyone who can work from home should do so. Non-essential offices should be closed. Household mixing should be restricted to one household except for those who’ve formed support ‘bubbles’.

"And all pubs, bars and restaurants would be closed for two-to-three weeks – but compensated so that no business loses out because of the sacrifices we all need to make. It should also mean the UK Parliament moves to remote working."

He added: “A circuit break would also provide an opportunity to reset and to rectify some of the mistakes the Government has made. In particular to get a grip on testing and hand over track and trace to local authorities. A circuit break will have to be accompanied by extensive support for jobs, businesses and our local economies.

“Because if we’re requiring businesses to close we must provide the financial support necessary to protect people and our local communities - because every job matters and every business matters.

“Introducing these kind of restrictions is not something anyone wants to do. This was not inevitable. But it is now necessary if we are to: protect the NHS, fix testing, and get control of the virus."

In a message to the Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer said: "You know that the science backs this approach. You know that the restrictions you're introducing won't be enough.

"You know that a circuit break is needed now to get this virus under control.

"You can't keep delaying this and come back to the House of Commons every few weeks with another plan that won't work.

"So act now. Break the cycle. If you do, you will have the votes in the House of Commons - I can assure you of that. You don't need to balance the needs of your party against the national interest."

The Liberal Democrats have also backed a circuit break lockdown, with leader Sir Ed Davey tweeting: "It’s an extraordinary moment in the covid crisis when the govt begins ignoring SAGE & even the CMO says the tier system doesn’t go far enough.

"We support a circuit breaker - otherwise the cost to lives & livelihoods as well as to jobs in our communities may be too harsh to bear."

Tweeting after Sir Keir's speech, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "The government's approach has failed. The PM has no plan to control rising infections.

"There are more people with Covid in hospital today than on the day lockdown was introduced in March.

"We need a two week circuit breaker to get infections down and get control of the virus."

Labour MP Bill Esterson also backed the leader, writing: "Keir Starmer telling the Prime Minister to follow the science and break the circuit to get the virus under control. This is what SAGE recommends. The government must do this."

But the move received criticism from some Tory MPs, including Mark Harper, who branded it "short-sighted gameplaying."

Earlier on Tuesday, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also backed a "circuit breaker," conceding that the measures "might sound tough" but insisted that the two or three weeks will "ameliorate months of us dealing with the health consequences and the economic consequences as well."

He told LBC: "Doing that not simply stops the spread of the virus but also avoids months and months and months of restrictions in Tier One, Two or Three."

The Mayor said present businesses are being "hammered" by the restrictions without financial support, adding: "Can you imagine them in four or five months' time with these restrictions?"