Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of sowing lockdown ‘confusion’ as PM defends ‘common sense’ plan to ease curbs
Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of sowing “confusion” with a new plan to gradually ease Britain’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
The Labour leader said the public needed “clarity and reassurance” in the wake of a three-stage proposal for lifting the curbs published by the Government on Monday.
But Mr Johnson hit back, saying his Government had been “very consistent” in its message to the public.
Changes to the rules around exercise and outdoor visits will kick in from Wednesday, with workers who cannot do their jobs from home also encouraged to return on the same day.
A further wave of changes - including the limited reopening of schools and “non-essential” shops - could follow on 1 June, while there are tentative plans to reopen remaining businesses “no earlier than 4 July”.
But Sir Keir hit out at the Government’s handling of the plan, as he raised a string of concerns over the detail in a Commons clash with the Prime Minister.
“What the country needs at this time is clarity and reassurance, and at the moment both are in pretty short supply,” the Labour leader said.
“And at the heart of the problem, it seems, is the Prime Minister made a statement last night before the plan was written, or at least finalised.
“And that has caused considerable confusion.”
The Labour leader demanded to know when the Government would published detailed back-to-work guidelines for the public.
And he asked the PM: “Is he seriously asking people to go back to work without the guidelines? Have the guidelines now been agreed with businesses and trade unions? That was the attempt that was going on Sunday a week ago. And do the guidelines only apply in England?”
Sir Keir also pressed the Prime Minister on when a promised quarantine for all new air arrivals to the UK would kick in after the document promised to implement it “as soon as possible”.
And the Labour boss warned that there was now “no consensus” on the lockdown across Britain’s four nations following criticism of a new ‘Stay Alert’ message from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
He said: “There are lots of questions, but so far precious few answers.
“The country does need clarity on this and people need reassurance above all else. They need it in the next 48 hours.
“So can the Prime Minister please provide that clarity?”
'GO TO WORK IF YOU MUST'
Defending the Governemnt’s strategy, Mr Johnson said there would “inevitably be complexities” as the country moves from a “gloriously simple” ‘Stay At Home’ message to a more nuanced one.
He said: “What we are saying now is that you should stay at home if you can, but go to work if you must, if your job does not allow you to go to work.”
Confirming that the detailed back-to-work guidelines - dubbed a ‘Covid Secure’ scheme by the Government - would be published “tonight”, Mr Johnson said the Government had been “very, very consistent with what we have said throughout this period”.
The Tory leader added: “From the very beginning, we have said you should stay at home if you can, go to work if you must. What has changed now is the emphasis and the encouragement that we are giving to people, as it were, to follow the initial guidance.”
Batting away suggestions of a split with the devolved nations, the Prime Minister insisted that there remained “a very, very strong desire to move forward as four nations together”.
“We all share the strong view that you should stay at home if you can,” he said.
“That remains the position. So the steps we are taking today are modest stops, entirely governed by the science.”
Mr Johnson said: “I think what the British people understand is that this is the moment for the whole country to come together and to obey those rules and to apply their common sense in the application of those rules.”