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Labour tells Boris Johnson to 'get a grip' over coronavirus impact on business as markets crash

2 min read

Labour has urged the Boris Johnson to "get a grip” to stop the coronavirus outbreak hitting small businesses.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said he was concerned at “the tardiness by the Chancellor in seeking to reassure the public and markets” as share prices plummeted amid the worsening spread of the virus.

And he said “vague statements” from Rishi Sunak so far have lacked “the detail to give confidence to many very financially vulnerable people, often in precarious work, that the will be supported and protected”.

In a speech ahead of the Budget, Mr McDonnell accused Mr Johnson of being “particularly out of touch” on the issue of statutory sick pay for those forced off work by illness or self-isolation.

And he claimed the Prime Minister “clearly does not understand how the system works” after suggesting last week anyone who does not qualify for it can claim the Universal Credit welfare payment.

The Labour frontbencher said: "Whatever criticisms people may have of Gordon Brown’s policy strategy in the banking crisis, nobody can question the international leadership he showed and the focus and determination he brought to dealing with those events globally.

"I regret that we have not seen that leadership, commitment, indeed political, diplomatic and indeed managerial ability from either the Prime Minister or the Chancellor.

"I just say gently, someone needs to get a grip."

Mr Sunak on Sunday said he would ensure small businesses have the cash flow they need to “bridge through a difficult period” amid fears coronavirus could damage the economy.

He also suggested small and medium-sized enterprises could be given extra time to pay tax if staff were off work or if shopping habits change.

But Mr McDonnell said: "The Chancellor also should have made clear immediately, ten days ago, in a major public statement and to Parliament that the Government stood ready to do everything necessary to support our economy and to participate in global action to maintain market confidence.

"In these circumstances, you need to be fast in demonstrating that there is a clear plan of action nationally and internationally.

"Attempting to let out assuring noises in dribs and drabs is not enough and has proved to be not enough."

His speech comes as NatWest said it will pledge £5billion of funding to support small and medium-sized businesses through the disruption.

The bank will provide working capital support for firms as well as loan repayment holidays and temporary emergency loans with no fees.

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