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Robert Jenrick Defends Government Handling Of Pandemic After "Monumental Mistakes" Claim

Robert Jenrick Defends Government Handling Of Pandemic After 'Monumental Mistakes' Claim

Robert Jenrick defended the government's handling of the pandemic after the UK recorded 100,000 deaths from coronavirus (PA)

6 min read

After the UK recorded 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 Labour has accused the government of "monumental mistakes" in its handling of the pandemic.

The shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said a "litany of errors” by ministers led to the grim milestone being passed yesterday.

But communities secretary Robert Jenrick insisted the government took the "right decisions at the right time”, telling Sky News: "And we did everything that we could to protect people's lives and help to weather the storm, and take the country through this very challenging period.”

Yesterday Boris Johnson said he was “deeply sorry for every life that has been lost”, and addressing the nation at a Downing Street press conference said he took “full responsibility for everything that the government has done”.

However the Prime Minister did not directly address criticism of the way the government had handled the pandemic and would not say what he would have done differently. 

“What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could and continue to do everything that we can to minimise loss of life and to minimise suffering in what has been a very difficult stage, a very difficult crisis for our country,” he added last night.

This morning Mr Ashworth told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We're roughly 12 months on from the first case being identified in the United Kingdom, to think that we've lost 100,000 people in the past 12 months is horrendous.

"We talk about statistics but every individual would have had families, friends, who are grieving and will be grieving particularly today I suspect, and of course within that cohort of people we've lost thousands who were in care homes and I'm afraid were left exposed and unprotected."

He said it was “just horrendous on every front," adding: “I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, I just do not believe that Boris Johnson did everything we could, I just can't accept that.”

Mr Ashworth accepted "this is a completely difficult, extraordinary situation," but added: "other countries are not dealing with these huge levels of deaths that we are" and that a lack of financial support has meant people are not able to quarantine when they have coronavirus.

In response Mr Jenrick said it was "difficult" to make international comparisons, adding: "There will come a time when we can reflect on what has happened, when we can and should learn lessons, but I think it is difficult to do so at this distance."

He admitted “there will be some things that we could have done differently with the benefit of hindsight”, but declined to say what they were.

“There wasn't a textbook. I was in many of those meetings with the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary and members of the Cabinet and I can give you this assurance, that on each occasion they took the best possible scientific and medical advice, they took their responsibilities extremely seriously,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We tried to marshal all the resources of the country, the magnificent effort of the NHS, those working in social care, local councils - which are my responsibility - the armed forces and, of course, British science and ingenuity which has come to the rescue so incredibly in the last few weeks and months with the vaccine programme."

And he added he was "proud" of how the government "looked after the most vulnerable in society like the homeless and the shielded”.

Mr Ashworth also criticised the government for failing to impose strict measures at the borders soon enough, ahead of a statement to the Commons by home secretary Priti Patel this afternoon.

She is expected to outline targeted quarantine measures for passengers arriving from hotpot countries where new variants of the virus have been discovered.

But the shadow health secretary told BBC Breakfast: "We should have had comprehensive border controls in for the past year

"Priti Patel and Boris Johnson, they tell us they want to take control of their borders, but the one time it actually mattered, and they needed to take control of our borders to protect us, they failed.

"I would urge the government to look at a comprehensive policy, not just the hotspots, because remember, there will be areas or countries across the world where there are mutations which haven't been identified yet because they don't have the same level of scientific ability."

But Mr Jenrick defended the border polices during the pandemic, telling Times Radio: "We're not a country which you can hermetically seal, we may be an island but we rely on imports and exports, freight and hauliers crossing the border every day so there will always be the ability for new variants to enter the country.

"And although we don't know what the origins of the Kent variant, the so-called Kent variant are, we're also capable of creating our own variants in this country so you can't shield yourself entirely from these situations but we have had strict measures at the border and we're going to have even stricter measures very soon."

Asked why there would not be a blanket policy for quarantining at the border, the Cabinet minister said: "We will need to continue having the flow of goods across the border, we can't cut ourselves off from the rest of the world but people should not be travelling to go on holiday, they shouldn't be travelling on business travel unless it is of the absolutely most essential nature.

"The sorts of key reasons why people should be crossing the border should be very rare health emergencies, for diplomatic travel, for health or government, the vast, vast majority of the country should not be making trips overseas.

"I think people understand that but if the rules need to be clarified, confirmed and stepped up then we will be doing that and the Home Secretary will make a statement later."

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