Keir Starmer Has Accused The Prime Minister Of “Gross Negligence” Over Christmas Coronavirus Restrictions U-Turn
Keir Starmer said the British people were "paying the price" for Boris Johnson's "gross negligence"
The Labour leader has said the Prime Minister’s decision to backtrack on plans to lift restrictions over Christmas was “an act of gross negligence”.
It comes after the Prime Minister announced yesterday that huge parts of the country would be placed into a newly-created Tier 4 in response to a novel strain of coronavirus which "may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant".
Those in the highest tier will now be in effective lockdown with no relaxation of rules over the festive period, while the rest of the country will only be allowed to celebrate with loved ones on Christmas Day rather than the five-day window originally announced.
In a press conference on Sunday responding to the announcement, Sir Keir Starmer criticised Boris Johnson’s lack of “decisive action” over the new strain.
He said: “It was blatantly obvious last week that the Prime Minister’s plan for a free-for-all over Christmas was a risk too far.
“And yet, rather listening to concerns and taking them seriously the Prime Minister did what he always does. Dismissed the challenge, ruffled his hair and made a flippant comment.”
Sir Keir continued: “We have a Prime Minister who is so scared of being unpopular that he is incapable of taking tough decisions until it is too late.
“Whether that was going into lockdown in the first place extending the furlough scheme, bringing in a circuit break in October to protect the economy and now Christmas.”
The Labour leader also highlighted the new strain cited by the Prime Minister was first identified in September, asking: “How could the Government allow people to go on as they were, when they knew they had lost control of the virus?”
“It is an act of gross negligence by a Prime Minister who once again has been caught behind the curve,” he added.
“Who once again offered confusion, not clarity. Who undermined public confidence. Who always over promises and under delivers. And who is now asking the British people to pay the price for his incompetence.”
It comes after health secretary Matt Hancock warned earlier on Sunday that the new coronavirus strain was now “out of control” and presenting an “enormous challenge” for the country.
“Until we can get the vaccine rolled out to protect people. This is what we face over the next couple of months,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge.
"Everybody, particularly people in Tier 4 areas, needs to behave as if they might well have the virus - that is the only way we are going to get it under control."
He added that it was now “more important than ever” to reduce social contact as this is a “deadly disease” that we need to “keep it under control.”
The health secretary also condemned reports of people queuing at stations in London last night in the hope of leaving before Tier 4 restrictions came into effect, branding it “totally irresponsible behaviour”.
The transport secretary Grant Shapps has since announced that police will be deployed at major stations and transport routes to prevent all but essential journeys out of the capital.
He said: "It is incredibly important that people follow the guidance, stay at home and do not attempt to travel. Our focus must be stopping the spread of this virus, protecting lives and our NHS.
“If you are in Tier 4, the law means you must stay at home and you cannot stay overnight away from home. Across the rest of the country, you must stay local."
Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands have also announced that UK travelers will be banned from entering due to the new coronavirus strain.
All travel from Britain to Belgium has been halted, and flights are now permitted to fly from the UK to the Netherlands as of 6 am CET on Sunday.
Dutch officials, however, have said they would consider adding restrictions on other modes of transport if necessary to prevent the new strain moving from the UK to the Continent.