Keir Starmer tells Boris Johnson to 'show some basic honesty' on lockdown exit plan

4 November 2020, 14:05 | Updated: 4 November 2020, 14:08

The Labour leader demanded a clear exit strategy from the second lockdown
The Labour leader demanded a clear exit strategy from the second lockdown. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Sir Keir Starmer has called on Boris Johnson to show “some basic honesty” and reveal what will happen once the second lockdown measures expire next month.

The Labour leader questioned whether the Prime Minister intends to lift the harshest level of restrictions for England on 2 December even if the Covid-19 infection rate is still increasing.

Mr Johnson has previously insisted the “autumn measures” will “end” in four weeks, although Tory backbenchers have criticised the lack of an exit strategy and fear it could be extended.

Read more: MPs set to vote on second national lockdown in England

Read more: 'Put it in your diary': Dominic Raab tells LBC lockdown will end on Dec 2

It is unclear, for example, whether all pubs, restaurants, non-essential shops, gyms and scores of other venues forced to shut for the second lockdown can reopen on 3 December. The Government has pledged a return to the tiered system of restrictions, but it is unclear whether the large areas currently under tier three will stay there.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said he has repeatedly stressed the lockdown restrictions will expire automatically on 2 December and he hopes “very much” to “get this country going again” in the run up to Christmas.

Sir Keir also offered to join cross-party talks with the Government to thrash out a solution on care home visiting during the lockdown.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Keir called the Prime Minister’s delay in acting over rising infection rates “a huge failure of leadership”.

He told MPs: “First, will the lockdown end on December 2 come what may, or will it depend on the circumstances at the time? People need to know that.”

Read more: NHS England to be placed on highest alert level as coronavirus cases soar

Mr Johnson replied: “That depends on us all doing our bit now to make sure that we get the R (value) down.

“I’ve no doubt that we can, and that we’ll be able to go forward from December 2 with a very, very different approach – but, of course, it will be up to the House of Commons to decide, thereafter, what to do.”

Sir Keir continued: “Is he saying that if by 2 December the R rate, the infection rate, has not come below 1, and therefore on 2 December the infection rate is still rising, still rising on 2 December, is he saying that come what may we will come out of lockdown with infection rates going up on 2 December? That doesn’t seem sensible to me.”

Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson clashed at PMQs
Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson clashed at PMQs. Picture: PA

Mr Johnson replied: “It is thanks to the efforts of the British people that the R is now currently only just above 1, as it is.

“And we are doing the right and the prudent thing at the right time to get that infection rate down and these measures, as I have said repeatedly to the House, will expire on 2 December.

“If he is now saying he wants to expand, protract them beyond 2 December, then perhaps he should make his position clear.”

But Sir Keir countered: “I just want some basic honesty.

“If the infection rate – we’ve got to look the public in the eye – is still going up on 2 December, it is madness to come out of the system back to the tiered system, when we know the one thing the tiered system can’t cope with is an R rate above one.”

The Labour leader also asked Mr Johnson to use the lockdown to “fix Test and Trace”, adding: “We’ve been going round and round in circles on this.

“The latest figures show that 113,000 contacts were not even reached and that’s just in one week. Only 20% of those who should be isolating are doing so and the majority of people still don’t get results in 24 hours.”

On care homes, Sir Keir raised concern over the emotional wellbeing of residents and their families if all visits are stopped.

He said: “It must be possible to find a way, perhaps a dedicated family member scheme of some sort, to allow some safe visits to alleviate the huge fears of isolation and despair across the coming months.

“Will the Prime Minister work cross-party to find a scheme that will work for those in care and their families?"

Mr Johnson said new guidance on care home visits would be announced on Wednesday to “strike the right balance” between seeing loved ones and limiting infection, before urging Sir Keir to follow the lead of former prime minister Tony Blair.

He said: “He should take a leaf out of the Blair book. And Tony Blair would not have spent four years in the same shadow cabinet as Jeremy Corbyn, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him.”