Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows roundup: Burnham – tier three will ‘cause real harm’

Sunday shows roundup: Burnham – tier three will 'cause real harm'
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham (BBC)
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Andy Burnham – Trapping us in tier three will 'cause real harm'

The government's standoff with regional leaders in the north west was played out on television this morning. Andrew Marr spoke to Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who has been the most prominent voice in resisting the highest level of coronavirus restrictions being imposed on the county. Citing Greater Manchester's adherence to local lockdown measures for just under three months, Burnham argued that adopting the tier three controls was unrealistic without added economic support for his constituents:

AB: Protecting health is about more than controlling the virus... Peoples' mental health is pretty low... What I would say to the government is, let's come together and agree a package of support that helps people through this. A punishing lockdown without support, trapping places in Tier 3 all winter, I think will cause real harm.

Legal challenge possible over reduced furlough rates

Burnham also confirmed that he was considering launching a legal challenge to the government in relation to the reduced furlough support available through the expanded jobs support scheme for businesses which, once again, are mandated to close their doors:

AB: I would do anything to protect low paid workers, who I think now are very, very close to the edge, and I don't think they can survive on two-thirds wages... I think it's discriminatory... to say 'You can have a two-thirds furlough', but we paid an 80% furlough for people on middle incomes earlier in the year.

Michael Gove – Burnham's position is 'fundamentally incoherent'

Marr went on to interview the Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove. Gove defended the sums the government is offering in lieu of peoples' wages and attacked Burnham's stance on holding out against the tier three restrictions, saying that the measures were essential for controlling the virus in Greater Manchester with extra support or without:

MG: The fundamental incoherence of the position of Andy Burnham is that, on the one hand he says actually the virus is not spreading at a rate that merits these restrictions, and then he's saying, but actually I will have them if I have the money. If he were being truly concerned about public health, then he would say, let's have these restrictions now.

We will look at imposing Manchester restrictions without agreement

Despite Gove's insistence that he wanted to reach a settlement with the political leaders in Greater Manchester, he did not rule out the possibility that the government would override them if the talks to resolve the situation break down:

AM: Will you impose restrictions if you can't get an agreement?
MG: Yeah, we're going to have to look at the position, but we absolutely want to work with the mayor and the political leadership of Greater Manchester... We've got agreement from... Liverpool and Lancashire. Greater Manchester we want to bring on board as well.

We did not bully or blackmail northern leaders into agreement

Marr suggested that a major factor in the agreements the government had reached with leaders in Liverpool and Lancashire to implement tier-three restrictions were the result of the respective authorities being steamrollered into accepting changes that they did not find acceptable. Gove flatly denied that this was the case:

AM: Did you bully and cajole those leaders to get agreement from them?
MG: No, we worked effectively I think, and cooperatively with them... It is the case that in every part of Lancashire and in Liverpool, agreement was reached... because we were very clear about the public health problem, and provided economic support.

Rachel Reeves – We may need multiple circuit breakers

Labour has now adopted the position that the UK should pursue a two to three week 'circuit breaker', the term being used for a temporary lockdown designed to allow the country to halt transmission of the virus in its tracks. The theory is that the country could then return to lighter touch restrictions, but there are suggestions that this might have to continue ad infinitum to be fully effective. Marr asked Rachel Reeves, Michael Gove's shadow, about the policy:

AM: Is this the first of many, many such lockdowns..?
RR: If that is what is needed, then that is the approach that has to be taken, because we've got to get a grip on this virus... Try something different. Stop being wedded to this model that isn't working, and instead follow the science.

Michael Gove – There will 'absolutely not' be a 'circuit breaker'

Sophy Ridge also interviewed Michael Gove, who rejected any suggestion that the government would be adopting Labour's policy of a 'circuit breaker'. Responding to Labour's Kate Green, Gove outlined why the government was not considering the policy:

SR: Is that going to happen?
MG: Absolutely not... What [Green] completely failed to answer is the reason why we should have restrictions in parts of the country where the infection rate is low... [That] would seem to me to be an error.

'Door is ajar' for EU trade deal, despite setbacks

Marr asked Gove about the chances of a post-Brexit trade deal, after talks stalled again last week. Gove maintained that it was still his preference for a trade deal to be agreed, but claimed that the EU had 'drawn stumps' on progress for the time being:

MG: I think the EU effectively ended the current round of talks last week. It was the case that we were making progress, and then the EU retreated from that... [The door] is ajar. We hope the EU will change their position, but... we are taking steps alongside business to be ready for [a no trade deal] outcome.

Kate Green – Free school meals should continue over holidays

The Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green told Ridge that the government should listen to footballer Marcus Rashford once again and ensure that free school meals continue to be provided to children over all school holidays until the pandemic is over:

SR: Families are in a desperate situation at the moment... They're really worrying about how they're going to put food on the table... Labour's calling for [it] to be continued... right through all the school holidays and half terms this [academic] year. 

Jeremy Farrar – Christmas 'will be tough this year' 

And finally, Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government's key Sage advisory group and the director of the Wellcome Trust had a message decidedly at odds with the spirit of the festive season:

JF: I don't think the vaccines will be ready and deployed by Christmas... Christmas I think will be tough this year... I think we have to be honest and realistic, and say we are in for 3 - 6 months of a very, very difficult period... but there is light at the end of the tunnel.