Labour leader Starmer steps up demand for lockdown ‘exit strategy’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has stepped up pressure on the Government to set out an “exit strategy” for lifting the coronavirus lockdown.

In a letter to Boris Johnson – expected to return next week to Downing Street after recuperating from the disease – Sir Keir said it was essential ministers learned the lessons from the mistakes made dealing with the crisis.

He said the UK was again in danger of falling behind other countries – as well as the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales – which were already engaged in “adult” conversations with their citizens as to how the restrictions could be eased.

Ministers have so far resisted calls for an exit strategy – arguing that it risks undermining their central message that people need to stay home to prevent the spread of the disease.

However, Sir Keir’s intervention echoes concerns expressed by some senior Conservatives alarmed at the mounting damage to the economy being caused by the lockdown.

The Labour leader said any exit strategy would only be effective if the Government puts the necessary planning, investment and infrastructure in place early.

“Simply acting as if this discussion is not happening is not credible, especially when other governments and our own devolved administrations have been able to communicate so much more,” he wrote.

“The British public have made great sacrifices to make the lockdown work. They deserve to be part of an adult conversation about what comes next. If we want to take people with us and secure their consent, this is necessary now.

Coronavirus
Boris Johnson is expected to return to Downing Street after recovering from coronavirus (Victoria Jones/PA)

“This is a national crisis and therefore needs a national response. The coming weeks require urgent preparation and planning from the Government. We have already seen the consequences of poor planning and preparation. That cannot happen again.”

Sir Keir said that while Labour fully supported the lockdown, the Government had been too slow to enter it, too slow to increase testing and too slow to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline NHS and care staff.

“If we are to learn from these mistakes, the Government cannot fall short in its preparation for what happens when the time is right for lockdown measures to be gradually lifted,” he said.

“The UK Government is behind the curve on this. I fear we are falling behind the rest of the world. That is why we need to see a significant step-change in the Government’s response to this pandemic.

“Decisions need to be taken quicker and communication with the public needs to be clearer.”

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