Labour leader Keir Starmer on Monday blamed chancellor Rishi Sunak for blocking previous attempts to impose a three-week lockdown in England, which allegedly led to inaction, deaths and more caseload of Covid-19.
As new cases and deaths surge, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday announced a month-long lockdown from Thursday until December 2. Ministers admitted that the lockdown could be extended if cases and deaths do not come down by then.
Addressing a meeting of the Confederation of British Industry, Starmer described the decision not to lock down earlier as “his (Sunak’s) decision”. Sunak had reportedly opposed it in cabinet on the ground that it would further aggravate economic distress.
According to Starmer, Sunak was trying to “pretend that you can protect the economy without controlling the virus”. He also used the occasion to burnish pro-business credentials of the Labour party under his leadership.
He said: “The impact on business – and jobs – will be severe. Make no mistake, the Chancellor’s name is all over this. His decision to block a circuit breaker, to dismiss it as a ‘blunt instrument’ and to pretend that you can protect the economy without controlling the virus will now mean that businesses have to close for longer, more people will lose their jobs, and the public finances will be worse than they needed to be”.
Labour is due to support legislation in the House of Commons on Wednesday on the second lockdown, but has often pointed out that its demand to impose the lockdown weeks ago had been dismissed – even ridiculed – by Johnson.
Starmer said: “The government was slow to act – again. But it can’t now waste these four weeks. They must be used to fix test, trace and isolate – and to give control to local authorities; to get a grip on messaging and rebuild public trust; and to provide a clear and transparent roadmap to protect businesses and the NHS over the months to come”.
Johnson was due to make a statement on the lockdown in the House of Commons on Monday, justifying the second lockdown and mentioning the possibility of deaths being twice as high as those in the first wave earlier this year, when daily deaths reached nearly 1,000.
According to excerpts from his statement released, Johnson would say: “Models of our scientists suggest that unless we act now, we could see deaths over the winter that are twice as bad or more compared with the first wave. Faced with these latest figures, there is no alternative but to take further action at a national level.”