Two trillion in debt: Rule of six must work to avoid lockdown and save UK plc

9 September 2020, 22:10 | Updated: 10 September 2020, 08:16

By Megan White

Boris Johnson’s new “rule of six” for gatherings is crucial for avoiding a second lockdown and saving the UK economy, as Britain’s national debt passed £2 trillion for the first time.

The new rules, that will come into effect on Monday, mean that the number of people meeting indoors and outdoors will be reduced from 30 to six, with a number of exemptions including weddings, funerals, in work and in schools.

The Prime Minister said it “broke his heart to have to insist on these restrictions” but said the “whole point” of them was to avoid another national lockdown.

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Failure to comply could result in a £100 fine, which will double on each repeat offence up to £3,200.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told LBC’s Nick Ferrari at breakfast: “There’s not an absolute science as to which number is the correct number. The fewer people you have the better and we want to make sure people can go about their lives.

Boris Johnson introduced new restrictions for gatherings on Wednesday
Boris Johnson introduced new restrictions for gatherings on Wednesday. Picture: PA

“If you’ve got a household that is permanently made up of more than six, then that’s your household.

“We understand that this requires sacrifice but we understand the whole thing has required sacrifice from the get-go.

“We want to avoid a full second lockdown. There are very few exemptions. Piling six people into a vehicle is not something you can now do."

The clampdown came on the fourth day in a row where there have been more than 2,000 infections.

Debt surged past £2 trillion in July as official bodies borrowed £26.7 billion, the fourth highest amount of any month since records began in 1993.

Debt reached 100.5 per cent of GDP at the end of the month - the first time it had risen above 100 per cent since 1961, the ONS experts said.

It marks a £227.6 billion rise since the same time last year.

Mr Johnson added that anyone who breaks the “rule of six” could be fined or arrested by the police.

He said: "This rule of six will of course throw up difficult cases, for example two whole households will no longer be able to meet if they would together exceed the limit of six people and I'm sorry about that, and I wish that we did not have to take this step.

"But as your Prime Minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives. And of course we will keep the rule of six under constant review and only keep it in place as long as is necessary."

CBI director general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, said: "The Prime Minister's ambition for a programme of nationwide mass testing is exactly what will be needed to build confidence for the public and businesses before a vaccine becomes available.

"With infection rates rising, reducing the size of social gatherings at this stage makes sense.

"Firms are working hard to follow Government guidance, keeping offices, pubs and shops as safe as they can for staff and customers.

"Making the temporary collection of data in hospitality premises legally enforceable makes it clear that there is no wriggle room when it comes to public safety.

"Many businesses are still scrambling to survive following the initial impact of Covid-19 and will need targeted support to get through the autumn.

"A successor to the furlough scheme and allowing businesses to defer VAT for the second quarter are two effective ways to protect jobs and livelihoods."

Phones4U founder John Caudwell said there needs to be "massive investment" in the economy to help with the recovery from coronavirus and called for up to £1 trillion to be invested "very wisely" in job creation schemes.

He told LBC's Tom Swarbrick: "We need massive investment in the economy, and I'm estimating between £500 billion and £1 trillion invested, but invested very, very wisely in job creation schemes, through apprenticeship schemes, through regeneration of all our services - rail, road, fibreoptics, hospitals, schools etc.

"We need big inward investment incentives to get foreign businesses to centre themselves on UK shores, and a big renewable energy scheme that would create an area of world excellence within renewable energy space."

Alongside the new rules on gatherings, the Government is "working hard" to increase testing capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October.

The PM said the Government is hoping to introduce new types of Covid test which use “swabs or saliva and can turn round results in 90 or even 20 minutes.”

Following Wednesday’s press conference, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "I think all of us are deeply concerned about the raise in infection rate.

"The whole country's concerned about that.

"So, we do support the measures that the Government have put in place and we would urge the public to comply with the new rules.

"I think the Government's now acknowledged that their poor communications were a large part of the problem so that's got to be fixed.

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"But they also need to recognise that the testing regime is all over the place at the moment.

"They can't pretend that's not a problem, so that needs fixing as well.

"But we support the principle of the measures and we ask everybody to follow those rules.”