Keir Starmer just dismantled Boris Johnson's major announcement with one crucial point

Joanna Taylor
Tuesday 22 September 2020 12:30
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Keir Starmer responded to Boris Johnson's coronavirus announcement with a crucial point about local lockdowns.

The Labour leader pointed out that similar restrictions to those the government will now enforce across England for "perhaps six months" have failed to significantly slow infection rates in Leicester or Bolton.

Although Starmer stressed that Labour support Johnson's new rules, he added:

A number of areas in England already have local restrictions including some that are very similar to those announced today. Pubs and restaurants in Bolton, for example, have been told to shut at 10pm for about two weeks. Leicester’s been in localised restrictions for about three months and yet the infections in those areas remain high.

So can the prime minister be sure that the restrictions he’s introducing today will be effective at suppressing the virus? And if they don’t work, when does he envisage further measures might be necessary? 

Johnson told parliament that, from Monday, pubs and restaurants must close at 10pm and that office workers should work from home where possible. Other restrictions include a 15 person limit at weddings and a ban on indoor sports involving more than six people. He also announced harsher fines and penalties for people breaking the rules.

The prime minister will communicate these rules again to the nation in a televised broadcast at 8pm tonight.

In response to Starmer's question, Johnson said that he was "right" to draw attention to the "success" of local lockdowns and praised the "heroic efforts" of the people living under them. He did not directly address Starmer's point or answer his questions about the possibility of harsher restrictions, but he did note that Labour's support for the government's efforts "seems to come and go".

Starmer also criticised the government's record on testing, pointing out that they had repeatedly been warned that they needed to fix it by autumn. He added that new restrictions were "not inevitable", but brought about by the government's failure to act "quickly enough".

He also criticised the "big gap" in Johnson's announcement concerning financial support for businesses in the hospitality sector and others that will be hit by the new restrictions.

Johnson responded by saying:

He criticises testing, he should know Mr Speaker that, as I've told the House many times, this country is now testing more than any other country in Europe. One test for every five people. 

[...] He asked, Mr Speaker, about what we're doing to support businesses, to support families and to support communities across the country as though we hadn't already quite rightly spent £160 billion so support businesses and jobs across the country, jobs and livelihoods, and we will continue to put our arms around the people of this country. 

Of course, as Keir Starmer repeatedly stressed, everyone in England should obey the governments's new rules from Monday. They're in place to keep us safe.

But, as he also argued, it's possible that they wouldn't even be necessary if the government had succeeded in delivering a successful test, track and trace programme far earlier in this crisis.

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