Labour leader and London Mayor at odds over closure of capital's schools

14 December 2020, 11:04 | Updated: 14 December 2020, 11:07

Keir Starmer says he is 'very reluctant' to close schools

By Asher McShane

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC this morning that he would be "very reluctant" to close a large number of schools in the capital after the Mayor of London called for it to be considered by the government.

Speaking on Call Keir on breakfast on LBC, Sir Keir said: "I'm very reluctant to close schools down. I'm really worried about what's happening across London because we're only 12 days out of lockdown. The numbers are rising very, very fast.

"I'm not sure Tier 2 is strong enough to hold the virus," he added.

He called for improvements in communication from No10 and pointed a finger at the test and trace system.

Sir Keir said: "I'm worried about closing schools early but equally I can see council leaders are put in a difficult situation now."

Asked what he would say to the London mayor, the Labour leader said: "Talk to the Health Secretary about what we can do this week to keep schools open, try to keep them open this week."

However, Sir Keir suggested bringing an extra inset day forward from the new year would be "smart" in order to close schools a day earlier than planned.

"But the worry about closing schools is all the parents have to decide what they do, that's very difficult with short notice, and we know from previous experience that for children out of school it's really difficult for the most vulnerable children," he added.

His remarks are at odds with the view of London's Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan, who today called for secondary schools and colleges in the capital to be closed from as early as tomorrow due to a rise in cases among 10-19-year-olds.

Mr Khan said there had been "significant" coronavirus outbreaks among 10 to 19-year-olds in the capital, and that Government must consider asking schools and colleges to close early ahead of Christmas and reopen later in January.

He said all schools and colleges across London should be given "priority testing" from today and Tuesday.

He was also reported by The Daily Telegraph to be pushing for the capital's schools to close from Tuesday, with Monday being the last day for the term, four days earlier than scheduled. Mr Khan is also advocating the extension of the winter break by a week till January 11, the paper said.

Mr Khan said the surge in coronavirus cases across London is "deeply concerning" and requires further Government action to be brought under control.

He wrote to Boris Johnson on Sunday requesting for an immediate increase in Covid-19 testing provision across the capital in response to the rising number of infections.

Mr Khan also asked for a compensation scheme to be put in place for businesses ahead of any further restrictions being imposed on the city.

He warned that moving London from Tier 2 into Tier 3 would have a "catastrophic" economic impact on businesses and put "hundreds of thousands of livelihoods at stake".

The Government said it will review all tiers in England on December 16.