Sir Keir Starmer accuses No10 of 'catalogue of mistakes' that cost lives and livelihoods

2 November 2020, 12:33 | Updated: 2 November 2020, 14:46

By Maddie Goodfellow

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said the "human cost" of a delayed lockdown is the fault of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak in a speech to business leaders.

Sir Keir told the Confederation of British Industry that the Government has cost "thousands of lives" by rejecting scientific advice and refusing to undertake a two-week circuit breaker lockdown earlier in October.

He said there had been just 11 deaths on September 21 when Sage made the initial suggestion, but 326 deaths on Saturday when the Prime Minister announced a longer, four-week lockdown.

Read more: Jonathan Ashworth: Second lockdown 'should have come sooner'

Read more: Boris Johnson to warn of covid deaths 'twice as bad' as spring

“That is the human cost of the Government’s inaction,” said Sir Keir. “And the impact on business – and jobs – will be severe.”

The Labour leader called for a circuit breaker lockdown back in early October as the second wave started to gather momentum in England.

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The Labour leader also criticised Chancellor Rishi Sunak by saying he personally resisted the circuit breaker.

“Make no mistake, the Chancellor’s name’s all over this. It was his decision to block a circuit breaker, which will now mean that businesses have to close for longer.  

"More people will lose their job, and the public finances will be worse than they needed to be.”

Referring to the news lockdown, Sir Keir Starmer said: "The impact on business - and jobs - will be severe.

"Make no mistake, the Chancellor's name is all over this. His decision to block a circuit breaker. To dismiss it as a "blunt instrument".

"And to pretend that you can protect the economy without controlling the virus will now mean that businesses have to close for longer.

"It makes me so angry. And so frustrated that when the British people - and British businesses - have given so much and made so many sacrifices they have been let down so badly by the Government."

He continued: “One of the things I’ve learnt from this crisis is that it exposes leadership and character like nothing else,” he told the CBI.

“On both counts the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have failed. They failed to learn. They failed to listen. And they failed to lead.

“The result is tragic – but all too predictable.”

The Labour leader told the CBI conference: "The Government was slow to act - again.

"But, it can't now waste these four weeks. They must be used to fix Test, Trace and Isolate - and to give control to local authorities

"To get a grip on messaging and rebuild public trust. And to provide a clear and transparent road map to protect businesses and the NHS over the months to come.

"I know how difficult this next month will be, and the months to come.

"Now, more than ever, we need to stand together as a country, as families, and as communities.

"And to show - once again - that at a moment of national crisis, the British people always stand by those in need."

However, Business Secretary Alok Sharma promised a "steady but significant" deployment of rapid coronavirus tests as he acknowledged a vaccine which can eradicate Covid-19 "may never materialise".

He told the same conference: "I've seen through my department the brilliant collaborative work between businesses and our world-leading scientists in developing a vaccine.

"As we speak, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is in final phase trials, with the prospect of a vaccine early next year.

"Now whilst there has been rapid progress we recognise that a vaccine which fully eliminates the virus may never materialise.

"So we plan to also protect the country in other ways.

"As the Prime Minister set out on Saturday, we have the immediate prospect of using many millions of cheap, reliable and rapid-turnaround tests.

"Over the next few days and weeks, we will plan a steady, but significant deployment of these tests.

"There are paths out of this current predicament to eventually get business, fully on its feet, and the economy firing on all cylinders."

On Monday, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told LBC the second lockdown for England 'should have come much sooner' as the country heads towards tough new restrictions.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC, Mr Ashworth said he was "saddened" by the prospect of lockdown, but said it was "inevitable" this would happen.

Read more: Boris Johnson faces major Tory rebellion over 'disastrous' England lockdown

Read more: Fears raised that four-week national lockdown could go beyond December 2

"I'm saddened because of course no one wants a long lockdown but it was inevitable this would happen," he said.

"This is why I am so frustrated that Boris Johnson didn't follow the advice of his scientists back in September.

"We offered to work with the government for the national interest and introduce a lockdown over the school half term but he ridiculed us and sent out his MPs to say it would be disastrous and would never happen, and yet here we are."

The Prime Minister had also been due to address the CBI as well but pulled out to prepare for his Commons statement this afternoon in which he will announce the lockdown until December 2.

It comes amid a possible Tory rebellion from the backbenches over the new national lockdown restrictions for England amid warnings that the measures would be “disastrous” for the economy.

The Commons will debate the Government’s shutdown to control the spread of coronavirus this week, with a vote expected on Wednesday, but some Conservative MPs have suggested they could vote against them.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of backbenchers, warned more than 80 Tory MPs could revolt against the new shutdown - mirroring the rebellion over sweeping Coronavirus Act powers last month.

And earlier on Monday, the Chancellor confirmed that the lockdown could not be extended beyond December 2 without a fresh Commons vote.

Defending the need for lockdown, he stated: "What's clear is that the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worse case of our scientific advisers.  

"And the models suggested that, unless we acted, we would see deaths in this country running at levels in excess of where they were in the spring - a peak of mortality far higher."

However, over the weekend Michael Gove refused to confirm whether restrictions could need to be extended past the December 2 deadline.

Speaking on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday show, Mr Gove said that the R rate across England will need to fall below 1 before measures can be lifted.

He also stated that even if restrictions were eased on December 2, it would only be "very slightly".

The admission raised fears that restrictions could still be in place over Christmas as cases in England continue to rise.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said: "We are going to review it on December 2 but we are driven by the data."On the basis of what we have been told it should drive the R rate below 1.

"It’s our hope that we have significantly reduced the reinfection (R) rate."Asked if the national restrictions could be extended, he replied: "Yes."