Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of ‘dog ate my homework’ excuses on coronavirus
The Labour leader promised his ‘full support‘ if the Government manages to ‘regain the trust of the British people‘. (PA)
Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of acting like a “schoolboy claiming his dog has eaten his homework” whenever he is quizzed on the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Labour leader hit out as he called on the Prime Minister to make “rapid improvements” to the NHS’s Test and Trace scheme aimed at tracking the spread of Covid-19.
And he urged the Government to ditch “anonymous, contradictory briefings to the media“ about its coronavirus strategy in favour of more regular press conferences.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a string of heated Commons clashes between the PM and Labour leader, with the two men trading blows over the fate of England’s care homes, the reopening of schools and the quality of the Government’s test and trace scheme.
Writing in The Guardian, Sir Keir insisted his party had been a “constructive opposition” that recognised no government “could have handled coronavirus perfectly”.
But he said local lockdowns such as those in force in the north-west, Yorkshire and Leicester had been beset by a “lack of preparation and guidance”, with people being “told to go back to the office with no additional support for childcare and relatives restricted from helping out”.
And the Labour leader said: “Trying to get answers and clarity from the prime minister is a frustrating experience.
“His instincts – to make excuses and blame others – are reminiscent of the schoolboy claiming his dog has eaten his homework.
“His attempts to blame care homes for his government’s failures has done huge damage to the morale of frontline workers.
“His repeated refusal to accept that test and trace isn’t functioning properly is a roadblock to fixing the issues and restoring public confidence.
“The government’s failure to make support schemes more targeted and focused is driving up unemployment and leaving people exposed.”
Despite the Government last month promising a £3bn NHS spending boost to get the service “battle ready for winter“, Sir Keir said there was “precious little evidence” that ministers were making the right preparations for a second wave of Covid-19 later in the year.
And he urged the Government to set out a “clear plan” to get schools back open in September, something described as a “national priority” by the Prime Minister.
Research published in the Lancet journal this week suggested the national coronavirus test and trace scheme is not currently doing enough to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 when schools reopen in September.
The study by researchers from UCL and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the tracking programme will need to be “scaled-up” to avoid a major resurgence of the virus when children return to the classroom in September.
The Government’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has meanwhile warned that the UK is now “near the limit” of easing coronavirus restrictions without prompting a resurgence of the virus.
Sir Keir said of the plan to reopen schools: “If that means making hard decisions elsewhere, so be it: to govern is to choose.”
And he added: “Alongside rapid improvements to the test-and-trace system, we need a focus on ensuring testing reaches more of the estimated 70-80% of people who don’t have symptoms.
“There should also be an acceptance that local lockdowns mean different parts of the country will at times have to live by different rules.
“That means getting a grip on communications is essential. Reintroducing regular press conferences would help. Working closely with authorities, not governing by diktat, is crucial. There should be an end to anonymous, contradictory briefings to the media.”
'BIGGER THAN POLITICS'
The Labour leader also used his piece to highlight his party’s call for ministers to do more to protect jobs hit by the pandemic.
While he said the Government’s wage-guarantee furlough scheme should not “go on indefinitely”, the opposition is calling for support to be “tailored” to help hard-hit sectors, including with a new fund paid for from underspends in the emergency loan help given to firms in trouble.
“Any steps the government makes to regain the trust of the British people will have Labour’s full support,” Sir Keir said.
“This crisis is bigger than politics. But the reality is that if the government doesn’t use this summer wisely, focusing on driving down the rate of infection, Britain faces a long and bleak winter.”
Mr Johnson has previously branded the Labour leader “Captain Hindsight” for his criticism of the Government’s coronavirus response.
And he told Sir Keir at a recent PMQs clash: “We have stuck to our plan to open up our economy gradually and cautiously; one week he is in favour of it, the next week he is against it.
“What this country wants to see is a steady, stable approach to getting our country back on its feet. That is what we are delivering.”