Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has responded to the Prime Minister’s announcement of new Coronavirus restrictions in England by supporting the measures but criticising Mr Johnson for waiting ‘until the eleventh hour’ to make the decision.
New restrictions were announced in England on Saturday afternoon due to concerns over a new strain of COVID-19. London and parts of the South East and East of England have moved into a new Tier 4 of restrictions equivalent to November’s nationwide lockdown, while elsewhere the planned easing of restrictions over Christmas has been reduced to just one day.
Speaking at a Labour Party Press Conference on Sunday morning, Sir Keir said, “Sadly, the measures the government announced yesterday are necessary and we support them.” Starmer also urged people to follow the new restrictions but said he understood the upset, saying, “I know the hurt people are feeling – and the anger – because Christmas is more than just a holiday. It is a part of who we are as a nation.”
However, Starmer criticised the Prime Minister for dismissing warnings and not acting sooner, saying “the alarm bells have been ringing for weeks, but the prime minister chose to ignore them.”
“There is no getting away from the fact – and what angers people the most and frustrates me the most is that – yet again – the prime minister waited until the eleventh hour to take this decision.
“It was blatantly obvious last week that the prime minister’s plan for a free-for-all over Christmas was a risk too far.
“And yet, rather listening to concerns and taking them seriously the prime minister did what he always does – dismissed the challenge, ruffled his hair and made a flippant comment.”
The Labour Leader had challenged the Prime Minister at PMQs on Wednesday over the planned easing of restrictions for five days over the Christmas period, following concerns from scientists and medical experts that such an easing would ‘cost many lives’.
Starmer renewed an offer to work with the government ‘to get this right’ and resolve what he called ‘gaps in our defences’ with the Test and Trace system and self-isolation and business support.
The Labour leader did though avoid some questions from journalists on his plans for tackling the crisis, repeatedly mentioning the need to ‘follow the science’.
Around 16 million people are now living in Tier 4 restrictions until at least 30 December, however, it is thought that restrictions in those areas may continue for much longer, with it being suggested the virus would be difficult to control until people are vaccinated.