Keir Starmer calls on Boris Johnson to apologise for cancelling Christmas meet-ups

Watch: Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of ‘gross negligence’ over coronavirus response

Sir Keir Starmer has called on Boris Johnson to apologise to the public for the way the latest coronavirus restrictions had been handled.

The prime minister announced a new tranche of surprise measures on Saturday which scuppered Christmas plans for millions in the south east and London, which entered the newly-created Tier 4 at midnight.

Starmer said the decision should have been made earlier and accused Johnson of being unwilling to “take the tough decisions that are necessary”.

The Labour leader told an online press conference: "I think the prime minister should apologise. This is not just one mistake when he has otherwise got things right. It is the same mistake over and over again.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference in response to the ongoing situation with the Covid-19 pandemic, at 10 Downing Street, London.
Johnson announcing the measures on Saturday. (PA)

"At the heart of the problem here is a prime minister who simply doesn't want to be unpopular and therefore won't take the tough decisions that are necessary, until he is forced into them at the 11th hour.

"We can't go on like that. I think that it is very important that the prime minister does apologise to people for his handling of this episode of the pandemic."

Read more: Hancock issues warning as he says Tier 4 will remain in place until vaccine is rolled out

Despite his condemnation of the prime minister’s strategy, Starmer said Labour would support the latest coronavirus restrictions.

However, he said Johnson had been guilty of “gross negligence” by leaving the decision so late.

"Yet again, the prime minister waited until the 11th hour to take this decision," the Labour leader told an online press conference.

A view of Bluewater shopping centre in Stone, Kent, after after Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for almost 18 million people across London and eastern and south-east England, after scientists warned of the rapid spread of the new variant coronavirus.
The empty Bluewater shopping centre in Kent on Sunday. (PA)

"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 than 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.

"We have known about rising infections and the NHS reaching capacity in many parts of the country for weeks.

"The alarms bells have been ringing for weeks, but the prime minister chose to ignore them.

"It is an act of gross negligence by a prime minister who, once again, has been caught behind the curve."