Starmer claims ‘opportunist’ Prime Minister choosing to ignore Covid-19 science
Boris Johnson was accused of being an “opportunist all his life” during bitter Commons exchanges with Sir Keir Starmer over the country’s Covid-19 tactics.
Labour leader Sir Keir questioned why the Prime Minister has rejected the advice of his scientific advisers and not introduced a so-called circuit-breaker to curb coronavirus infections, suggesting “tougher measures are now unavoidable”.
He pressed Mr Johnson to go beyond his new three-tier alert level system in England and implement a circuit-break immediately in a bid to “save lives, fix testing and protect the NHS”.
But the Prime Minister hit out at Labour’s own “opportunism” and accused Sir Keir of performing a “dramatic” U-turn after not opposing the regional approach earlier in the week.
Mr Johnson added: “I rule nothing out”, but repeatedly stressed his desire to avoid the “misery of another national lockdown”.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir opened by questioning Mr Johnson’s desire to follow the science – with Mr Johnson defending his new restrictions.
The Prime Minister also urged Labour mayors to support the Government’s plans, telling the Commons: “We want to put in the most stringent measures necessary in the places where the virus is surging in order to get it down where it surging, that is the logical thing to do.
“So will he get on to his Labour friends in those parts of the north of England where we want to work with them to put those very stringent measures in place in order to deliver the reductions that the whole country wants to see?”
Sir Keir countered: “He (Mr Johnson) probably hasn’t noticed that this morning, the council leaders in Greater Manchester that he’s just quoted, including the mayor and including the Conservative leader of Bolton Council, have said in a press statement that they support a circuit-break above Tier 3 restrictions.
“Keep up, Prime Minister.”
Sir Keir asked why the Test and Trace system has “gone so wrong”, an assertion rejected by the Prime Minister.
Sir Keir then told Mr Johnson: “I know that for someone who has been an opportunist all his life this is difficult to understand, but having read and considered the Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) advice I have genuinely concluded that a circuit-break is in the national interest – genuinely concluded.
“It is the failure of the Prime Minister’s strategy that means tougher measures are now unavoidable. That is Sage’s view.
“Sage has advised that a circuit-breaker should act to reduce R below one, should reset the incidence of disease to a lower level and should set the epidemic back by approximately 28 days or more.
“All three are vital and that is why Labour backs it. So can the Prime Minister tell us, what is his alternative plan to get R below one?”
Mr Johnson replied: “The plan is the plan that (Sir Keir) supported on Monday.
“And the whole point is to seize this moment now to avoid the misery of another national lockdown into which he wants to go head-long by delivering a regional solution.”
Mr Johnson added that “opportunism, I’m afraid, is the name of the game for the party opposite”.
Sir Keir Starmer quipped that following the advice “is now apparently opportunistic”, adding he could not think of a single scientist who backs Mr Johnson’s strategy.
He added a circuit-break is in the “national interest”, telling Mr Johnson: “We are at a tipping point, time is running out, maybe he can seize the moment and answer a question – this morning the Telegraph quotes senior Government sources saying the chances of the Prime Minister backing a circuit-break in the next two weeks are about 80%.
“Is that right? And if it is, why doesn’t he do it now, save lives, fix testing and protect the NHS?”
Mr Johnson replied: “(Sir Keir) claims to be supporting the Government one day, and then performs a dramatic U-turn the next.”
The Prime Minister added: “Everybody can see what he’s doing. Labour have said it themselves, they see this as a good crisis for the Labour Party and one they wish to exploit – we see this as a national crisis that we are going to turn around.”
Mr Johnson also noted: “I rule out nothing, of course, in combating the virus, but we’re going to do it with the local, regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus if it is properly implemented.”