06/12/2020 11:05 GMT | Updated 07/12/2020 09:38 GMT

Gary Neville Attacks Keir Starmer Over Failure To 'Take Stand' On Covid Tiers

Labour let “the home team have a clear run", says pundit after party abstained in vote on restrictions.

Former Manchester United star Gary Neville has accused Labour of failing to “take a stand” over the new Covid tiers system. 

The Sky Sports pundit said Keir Starmer’s decision to abstain on a vote on local lockdowns last week was tantamount to sitting “in the stand” and letting “the home team have a clear run”. 

Labour’s refusal to join Tory rebels meant Boris Johnson’s new system, which leaves huge swathes of the north facing the toughest restrictions, could comfortably pass the Commons. 

Neville, who has helped form campaign group UnitedCity, which aims to get Manchester “back on its feet” in supporting retail, leisure, culture and sports businesses, said the hospitality sector has been “devastated” by the pandemic.

He suggested Starmer should have done more to hold Johnson’s feet to the fire over economic support. 

Greater Manchester is in tier 3, which means pubs, hotels and restaurants are closed.  

Sky Sports pundit and former Manchester United player Gary Neville

Neville told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We are in a situation where there is no plan, everything is so reactive and immediate and it cannot be like that. Leadership cannot be like that.

“I was as critical of the Labour Party earlier in the week because they’re there to protect the disadvantaged and the vulnerable and the restrictions (...) in place which protect health are fine, but they know that the economic support isn’t in place aligned with those restrictions, which means you’ve got to take a position and you cannot abstain. Take a stand.

“You told in the general election to all the people on the doorsteps, get out and vote so when you’re elected and you’re in that seat in Westminster, you’ve to take a position, you don’t abstain, you take part in the match, you’re the opposition. 

“You’re the opposition, don’t sit in the stand.  They sat in the stand while the home team had a clear run and even they didn’t have a clear run because some of their own players got sent off.”

The footballer turned property developer jointly owns the luxury Stock Exchange Hotel in central Manchester with former teammate Ryan Giggs and the pair have plans to build a 40-storey tower elsewhere in the city which will accommodate another luxury hotel, as well as apartments and offices.

Asked how the past few months have been, he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “It’s shocking. It’s shocking, and I have to say the whole hospitality sector has been devastated.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, who was interviewed on Sky News moments later, defended the decision to abstain.  

He said the party came to the view health restrictions were necessary. 

“We didn’t sit in the stands at all. What we did is act in the public interest,” he said. 

Neville also described Johnson as being as “out of his depth”, adding: “I’ve got no doubt how difficult it’s been in the last eight to ten months being in government, I’ve got no doubt.  It’s unique circumstances and I’ve been there when I was the leader of a football club for four months in Valencia and I was out of my depth and I was spinning and I had to just jump off the roundabout because ultimately, I was out of my depth and I didn’t know what I was doing.  That’s what I feel in the last eight months I’ve seen in the leadership of this country.”