Keir Starmer warned Boris Johnson there were ‘real risks’ his new tiers plan to follow the lockdown would not work to half the spread of coronavirus today.
The Labour leader tore into the Prime Minister in the Commons ahead of tonight’s vote to approve the stiffened system when lockdown ends at midnight.
Labour will abstain on the Commons vote, prompting accusations from Downing Street that he was ‘playing politics’ in the middle of the pandemic.
His decision will expose already glowing Tory fault-lines on the divisive issue and also allow Sir Keir to quieten a rebellion on his own backbenches.
Some Labour MPs from Northern areas that will be placed in the strictest Tier 3 were furious at the idea that the party could vote with the Government, as it has on previous occasions.
Addressing the Commons this afternoon, Sir Keir said that the Government plans were ‘full of holes’.
‘I do recognise that the tiers have been toughened as it was obvious to everyone that the previous tiers were a one-way street to Tier 3. But I’m far from convinced by what the PM has said today,’ he said.
‘In particular the economic package is nowhere near sufficient to support the communities most affected. They have been suffering for many months.
‘l fear that without the right health measures in place, in particular a working test-and-isolate system, there are real risks that this plan is incapable of controlling the virus this winter.’
The abstention means that the Government is almost certain to win the vote, despite a hefty Tory rebellion over the economic threat they believe the tiers pose.
The PM has failed to quell rising fury on his own benches about the draconian restrictions, which will leave 99 per cent of England under the toughest two levels from tomorrow.
Sir Keir added that he and many of the British people are ‘far less convinced’ with the Government’s approach this time round.
He told MPs: ‘Nineteen days later, fourth attempt now, a hurried press conference on the Saturday, the Prime Minister announced that the tiered system had failed, the virus was out of control and a national lockdown was now unavoidable.
‘The reason this all matters is because there is a pattern here – the Prime Minister has got a record of over-promising and under-delivering short-term decisions that then bump into the harsh reality of the virus.
‘And then a new plan is conjured up a few weeks later – we’re now on at least the fifth – with an even bigger promise that never materialises.
‘Now after eight months, after eight months, the Prime Minister should not be surprised that we and many of the British people are far less convinced this time round.’
Sir Keir Starmer (pictured today) was accused of ‘playing politics’ in the middle of the pandemic after he ordered his MPs to sit out a crucial vote tonight on the rules that will replace lockdown
As many as 100 Tory MPs have been considering defying Boris Johnson (pictured today) in a crunch vote this evening
After Sir Kier’s announcement last night that Labour would abstain, a No10 spokesman said: ‘This pandemic is one of the biggest challenges facing the country in decades and Labour have decided to abstain on it.
‘While Keir Starmer claims he offers new leadership, it’s clear to all that he actually offers no leadership at all.
‘Keir Starmer is playing politics in the middle of a global pandemic instead of working with the Government to find a way through this difficult time for the British people.’
As many as 100 Tory MPs have been considering defying Boris Johnson in a crunch vote this evening, and were left livid when ministers finally released an impact assessment of the tier measures last night, only to find it did not feature any new detail. Rebel ringleader Mark Harper said the ‘wheels were coming off’ the policy.
It is understood the government has another dossier that includes more ‘granular’ information on 40 areas of the economy, although sources dismissed the idea it is ‘secret’, saying it only contains material already ‘publicly available’.
In a statement late last night, Sir Keir said: ‘Coronavirus remains a serious threat to the public’s health and that’s why Labour accept the need for continued restrictions. We will always act in the national interest, so we will not vote against these restrictions in Parliament tomorrow.
‘However, I remain deeply concerned that Boris Johnson’s Government has failed to use this latest lockdown to put a credible health and economic plan in place.
‘We still don’t have a functioning testing system, public health messaging is confused, and businesses across the country are crying out for more effective economic support to get them through the winter months. It is short-term Government incompetence that is causing long-term damage to the British economy.
‘It is imperative that the Government gets control of the virus so that our NHS can be protected and our economy recovers faster.’
However, Labour MPs had already publicly refused to back the moves before the party leader’s shift.
Leftwinger Richard Burgon, secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group and a former shadow justice secretary under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, was among those who has refused to vote for the tiers.
Demanding the current lockdown continue until Christmas, he said: ‘The UK has one of the highest death tolls and deepest economic declines of any major economy. But the Government is still refusing to learn the lessons. Its proposed approach risks causing yet more harm to both public health and the economy.
‘While Coronavirus infections in England have fallen by about a third during lockdown, caseloads remain unacceptably high- many times higher than in the summer and early autumn – and there are still way too many people being admitted to hospital and dying from Covid.
‘The new Tier system will not only fail to drive the virus levels down, but there’s a real risk that taking the foot off the brake over the coming weeks will undermine the gains made by the current lockdown. That will make a Third Wave and yet another lockdown much more likely in the new year. A sustained economic recovery simply isn’t possible if we’re having to constantly move in and out of restrictions.’
Meanwhile, a trio of leftwing Labour politicians have started a new campaign group that accuses the Government of sacrificing the region to protect the city of London.
Leftwinger Richard Burgon, secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group and a former shadow justice secretary under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, was among those who refused to vote for the tiers
The No Holding Back group, formed by former shadow ministers Ian Lavery and Jon Trickett, plus ex-Labour MP Laura Smith, published a report today on the way restrictions before this lockdown hit poorer regions.
They argue that the UK needs ‘blanket tier four restrictions for the entire country until the curve has been crushed’.
In the foreword they attack Mr Johnson, saying he has ‘treated held-back communities in northern England as second-class citizens’.
‘His decision to keep tough restrictions for the north for longer while neglecting to place London in Tier 3 shows that he has no regard for the difficulties faced by our constituents,’ they said.
‘Placing London in Tier 2 will ultimately cost unnecessary lives and prolong this second wave.
‘With tier restrictions commencing on 3rd December (sic), Boris Johnson had a chance to show he had learned from his blatant discrimination in trying to foist 67 per cent furlough on Northern England while pivoting to 80 per cent furlough when the lockdown was extended to the South of England.
‘Not only did he fail, but he repeated that discrimination, again leaving us in no doubt of his disregard for held back communities. Like ours.’