Keir Starmer Blames Rishi Sunak For Decision To Reject Two-Week Lockdown

One scientist who advises the government said ignoring calls for a circuit-breaker cost "thousands of lives".

Keir Starmer has pinned the blame on Rishi Sunak for blocking a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown in England – a decision one scientist who advises the government said cost “thousands of lives”.

“One of the things I’ve learnt from this crisis is that it exposes leadership like nothing else,” the Labour leader said on Monday morning

“On that count, the prime minister and the chancellor have failed. They failed to learn. They failed to listen. And they failed to lead. The result is tragic – but all too predictable.”

And speaking to the business leaders at the CBI conference, Starmer added: “Make no mistake, the chancellor’s name is all over this.

“His decision to block a circuit-breaker, to dismiss it as a ‘blunt instrument’ and to pretend that you can protect the economy without controlling the virus, will now mean that businesses have to close for longer, more people will lose their jobs, and the public finances will be worse than they needed to be.”

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) recommended on September 21 that a shorter circuit-breaker lockdown was needed.

Boris Johnson decided not to follow that advice and instead on October 12 announced a three-tier system of varying local lockdown restrictions.

The next day, after Sage’s advice became public, Starmer called for the government to impose a two-week national lockdown as Sage had suggested.

The prime minister resisted the demands and said as recently as October 21 that another national lockdown would be the “height of absurdity”.

But on Saturday Johnson U-turned and announced he would impose a four-week lockdown on England in an attempt to regain control of the virus.

Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the decision to ignore Sage had led to dire consequences.

“I think if we had chosen a two-week circuit-break at that time, we would definitely have saved thousands of lives,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

And he said it would have inflicted “substantially less damage on our economy” than the looming four-week shutdown.

Johnson will use a statement in the commons later on Monday to warn that Covid-19 deaths over the winter could be twice as high as during the first wave without his second lockdown and that there is “no alternative”.

But several senior Conservatives likely to rebel against the government when MPs are asked to vote on the plan later this week.

Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, told the BBC: “If these kinds of measures were being taken in any totalitarian country around the world we would be denouncing it as a form of evil.”

It comes amid confusion over whether the measures could be extended beyond December 2, after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove admitted they may need to be in place for longer.


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