Boris Johnson to face Commons grilling amid Leicester lockdown confusion

1 July 2020, 06:01

The Prime Minister will face the Labour Leader in the Commons on Wednesday
The Prime Minister will face the Labour Leader in the Commons on Wednesday. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister will face a grilling from the Labour leader over the Government's handling of coronavirus amid confusion over the local lockdown in Leicester.

Boris Johnson will face Sir Keir Starmer over the dispatch box 100 days after restrictions came in which put the country into near-total lockdown due to Covid-19.

Ministers are now facing questions over their speed in acting following a local increase in cases in the East Midlands city.

Sir Keir has said people in the city were "crying out for answers" and urged the Government to move quickly while the local mayor hit out at Public Health England (PHE) over delays in sharing data on how the disease was spreading.

Read more: What is a local lockdown and how will they be brought in?

The PM paid tribute to the people in the city for their "forbearance" in accepting the return of controls including the shutting of non-essential shops and the closure of schools to most children.

Locals in Leicester have expressed annoyance as they were forced to start turning away businesses at the same time the rest of England was preparing for a further opening up and easing of restrictions on Saturday.

Read more: Government will change the law to enforce Leicester local lockdown

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government had no choice but to impose a city-wide lockdown after a series of targeted measures - including working with factories which had seen a spike in cases - failed to halt the spread.

"It was clear that we needed to take this further action," he said following talks in Whitehall on Tuesday.

"I understand that people in Leicester have difficulties - especially when the rest of the country is having lockdown measures lifted - that they are going to be asked to stay at home for that much longer.

"But it is profoundly in the interests of people in Leicester and across the country that we get this virus under control."

Read more: Leicester local lockdown, what is closing down and why?

At the same time, the Government remains under pressure over the economy as fears grow of more job loses as the furlough scheme - which has protected 9 million jobs during the course of the pandemic - begins to unwind.

The Prime Minister has unveiled plans to bring forward £5 billion of infrastructure spending in an attempt to reboot the economy after the lockdown brought activity grinding to a halt.

But opposition parties warned these fall far short of the scale of investment needed following the country's unprecedented fall-off in output.

Meanwhile, aerospace giant Airbus announced it was cutting 1,700 jobs in the UK due to the pandemic while the union Balpa said that Easyjet was considering axing more than 700 pilot jobs.

From Wednesday, businesses will be able to start bringing staff who had been furloughed back part-time as more businesses begin to re-open.

However, from August, employers will have to start contributing to their staff wages again - prompting fears of more mass lay-offs if firms lack the cash to pay them.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "Our number one priority has always been to protect jobs and businesses through this outbreak.

"The furlough scheme, which will have been open for eight months by October, has been a lifeline for millions of people and as our economy reopens we want that support to continue.

"Giving firms the flexibility to bring back furloughed workers on a part-time basis will help them work gradually and help them plan for the months ahead."