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Boris Johnson urged to consider unity government to tackle coronavirus crisis

Tory MPs said the Prime Minister may have to "drag Labour in" to share blame for controversial decisions.

4 min read

Boris Johnson may have to form a national unity government with Labour if the coronavirus crisis worsens, according to a Conservative former minister.

George Freeman - the former chair of Theresa May's policy board who served as a transport minister until earlier this year - said a "Covid coalition" may now be "unavoidable" after the Prime Minister moved to impose a lockdown on the streets of Britain.

He told The Guardian: "The scale of this national emergency – the suspension of usual freedoms and democracy, the economic consequences and the likely loss of tens of thousands of lives – demands a suspension of politics as usual.

"When Labour have a sensible new leader, Keir Starmer [if elected] should be invited to Covid cabinet, Cobra and joint No 10 briefings."

The call came as some Tory MPs argued that the Prime Minister may need to share responsibility for controversial decisions with other opposition parties to avoid being booted out of office at the end of the crisis, with one telling The Guardian that he could "drag Labour in" to avoid sole blame.

Another said they believed Number 10 would be considering a cross-party coronavirus council "as democratic consensus will be needed for a continued suspension of everyday life, especially if Parliament cannot sit".

Closer involvement of Labour in the Government's coronavirus decision-making - short of a full coalition - has already been backed by leadership contender Lisa Nandy.

She has has called for a "national Cobra" to be set up to tackle the spread of the virus.

In a letter to Labour members, Ms Nandy urged supporters to bring in opposition MPs, trade unionists and business leaders to help the country through the pandemic.

Ms Nandy said: "We must fill the vacuum of leadership and get the country through this. Our party has experience and expertise at every level - from dealing with the global economic crisis in 2008 to building resilience in our communities over the last decade in the toughest of times.

"These extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, but I know that by the strength of our common endeavour we will survive this crisis."

And the Wigan MP told The Guardian that former Prime Minister Gordon Brown could be called up to offer advice.

She said: "There is absolutely no reason I can see why someone like Gordon Brown wouldn’t be in the meeting room, helping to steer us through this. He’s dealt with not just the global financial crash, but foot and mouth as well. We really do need to start drawing on a wider pool of expertise."

Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Layla Moran meanwhile said she would prefer "cross-party working, through joint Cobra and subject-specific committee meetings" rather than a full coalition government, which she argued could cause further disruption.


The calls for Mr Johnson to work more closely with the opposition came as some Labour MPs hit out at party bosses for the length of its leadership contest.

Lucy Powell, who is heading up an inquiry into Labour's December general election defeat, told The Guardian the contest should have been shortened to allow a new leader to respond to the Covid-19 epidemic.
She told The Guardian: "We could have easily brought forward the election of the new leader. We are now in the worst of all worlds. Despite their best efforts, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell feel less relevant."

Shadow minister Chris Matheson, who is backing Sir Keir Starmer as the next leader, meanwhile said: "The lesson for the future is seriously that such a protracted contest does nobody any good."

But a Labour Party spokesperson said: "Jeremy and the Shadow Cabinet have led a strong and effective response to the coronavirus crisis, offering constructive support to the Government where possible and pushing it whenever necessary on key issues such as protection and testing for NHS staff, help for renters, income protection for workers, the self employed and those on insecure contracts, increasing statutory sick pay, and most recently calling for enforcing social protection measures.

"In a number of key areas, the Government has followed Labour’s demands for action."

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