Keir Starmer warns PM's lockdown delay will have 'very real human cost'

31 October 2020, 21:58 | Updated: 31 October 2020, 22:35

The Labour leader said Boris Johnson should have listened earlier
The Labour leader said Boris Johnson should have listened earlier. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Sir Keir Starmer has said the delay in imposing a second national lockdown in England will have a “very real” human cost and cause restrictions to drag on for longer.

Boris Johnson announced the new restrictions will be imposed from Thursday after rejecting earlier calls from Government scientists for a short, sharp shutdown last month.

The Labour leader said the delay will have a “very real” human cost, while northern leaders criticised ministers for extending the furlough for the nation despite earlier refusing it for their areas during heightened restrictions.

Sir Keir welcomed that the Prime Minister had “finally taken the decision it should have taken weeks ago” and indicated Labour would support the lockdown in a Commons vote.

“Everybody is concerned about the rise in infections, the hospital admissions and tragically the number of deaths. That’s why three weeks ago, I called for circuit-break,” Sir Keir told reporters.

Read more: England to enter second national lockdown lasting until December, PM confirms

“The Government completely rejected that only now to announce the self-same thing.

“Alas the delay now will cost, the lockdown will be longer, it’ll be harder and there’s a human cost which will be very, very real.”

Pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential retail will close from Thursday until at least 2 December.

The public will be told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, but schools, colleges and nurseries will remain open.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the furlough scheme will be extended for a further month, with the Treasury covering 80% of employees’ wages to prevent further unemployment.

But Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham reacted angrily to this, with the Government having refused to grant the subsidy for the region as they battled over Tier 3 measures.

Read more: What you can and can't do under England's new lockdown rules

Mr Burnham said that “when we asked you to do that for the lowest-paid people in the North, you refused”, adding: “People here will remember that.”

Liverpool region mayor Steve Rotheram added: “Now we know for sure that the Government thinks workers in the North were worth 13% less than those in the South.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey called the Government “an utter shambles”.

He tweeted: “Through dither and delay they have cost jobs and lives.“PM must ensure people have the support they need through this lockdown — and start work on a UK wide plan for Christmas.”

Conservative backbenchers were outraged that the media learned of the new lockdown before Mr Johnson made an announcement in Parliament.

In a WhatsApp message, the PM wrote to Tory MPs to apologise to them and assure that Downing Street had not informed journalists of the measures on Friday.

“Let me assure you that the leak was not a no10 briefing and indeed we have launched an inquiry to catch the culprit,” he wrote.

MPs are expected to vote on the measures on Wednesday.