Prime Minister piles pressure on local leaders to agree to stricter lockdown measures

Boris Johnson has piled the pressure on the mayor of Greater Manchester to engage with talks over coronavirus restrictions, as discussions also began in West and South Yorkshire over moving up to the next tier of rules.

Friday, 16th October 2020, 5:52 pm
Updated Friday, 16th October 2020, 5:58 pm

The Prime Minister today ramped up tensions between Whitehall and Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham by urging him, in a televised press conference, to “reconsider and engage constructively” over Tier 3 restrictions, warning he will intervene if an agreement cannot be reached.

Mr Johnson said time was “of the essence” after Mr Burnham accused the Government of using the North as a “sacrificial lamb” by not offering more financial support for areas heading into local lockdowns.

It came as Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis said “constructive” talks had been held with the Government today, but he maintained that “we are clear, alongside fellow Northern leaders, that a local lockdown lifeline is needed. Additional restrictions must go hand in hand with significant additional resources and funding.”

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photo: PA

He said: “Our region faces an increasingly severe situation: we are treading an incredibly fine line to prevent more lives, jobs and businesses being lost, therefore reaching the right agreement is paramount.”

While council leaders in West Yorkshire also entered discussions with the Government, but in a statement said: “There was no discussion about moving to a higher alert level.”

Both areas remain in Tier 2 restrictions, meaning households cannot mix indoors.

In a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said he wanted to avoid another national lockdown “if at all possible” but added he “cannot rule anything out”.

Regarding the Greater Manchester area, he said: “On recent trends, in just over two weeks there will be more Covid patients in intensive care than at the peak of the first wave so I urge the mayor to reconsider and engage constructively.

“I cannot stress enough: time is of the essence. Each day that passes before action is taken means more people will go to hospital, more people will end up in intensive care and tragically more people will die.”

Nine further deaths were recorded in Yorkshire today in people who had previously tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the region’s total to at least 3,066. Nationally, 136 further deaths were reported, bringing the total to 43,429.

Mr Johnson added: “Of course, if agreement cannot be reached, I will need to intervene in order to protect Manchester’s hospitals and save the lives of Manchester’s residents.

“But our efforts would be so much more effective if we work together.”

It comes after the Government announced that a further 1.5m people in England will be placed under the toughest coronavirus restrictions this weekend as Lancashire moves into Tier 3.

But Pendle Council leader Mohammed Iqbal told the Lancashire Telegraph newspaper: “Throughout the negotiations, Government officials were only interested in the politics and threatened any district leader who did not fall into line with 10 Downing Street’s threats to accept Tier 3 would (instead) suffer an imposition of Tier 3 and that their borough ‘would become an island’ that would receive much less in funding and resource.

“Rishi Sunak’s promise that the Government will provide “whatever is necessary” has clearly become a broken promise to the people of Lancashire and the North.

“Lancashire leaders have not been given the policies or the means to stop the spread of the virus and have been bullied for political gain by 10 Downing Street.”

Number 10 said it had worked in “consultation” with councils.