Manchester mayor Andy Burnham continues war of words with Downing Street over covid severity

Talks: Greater Manchester mayor Andy BurnhamTalks: Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham
Talks: Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and the Government have continued to clash over lockdown restrictions for the region, but talks between him and Downing Street are set to resume.

The Labour mayor accused Boris Johnson of having exaggerated the severity of the coronavirus situation in the region and called for Parliament to intervene to ensure Tier 3 areas get sufficient financial support, saying: “This is not just Greater Manchester’s fight.”

In inflammatory remarks, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove on Sunday accused Mr Burnham of having engaged in political “posturing” and called for him to accept the measures “to save people’s lives”.

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But, despite the continued war of words, a call was scheduled for Sunday between Mr Burnham and the Prime Minister’s chief strategic adviser Sir Edward Lister after confusion over whether talks would continue this weekend.

Mr Burnham and Conservative politicians in Greater Manchester oppose Tier 3 measures being imposed, with the mayor calling for greater financial support for workers and businesses.

Senior minister Mr Gove told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I want to reach an agreement with the political leadership in Greater Manchester.

“I want them to put aside for a moment some of the political positioning that they’ve indulged in and I want them to work with us in order to ensure that we save lives and protect the NHS.

“Instead of press conferences and posturing, what we need is action to save people’s lives.”

Mr Burnham accused the Prime Minister of having engaged in an “exaggeration” of the severity of Covid-19 in the region during a Downing Street press conference.

“It’s a serious situation but I don’t think it was the situation that was described by the Prime Minister on Friday evening,” the mayor told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

But despite the clash, Mr Burnham said he would speak to Sir Edward later on Sunday, which Downing Street confirmed, after the two sides struggled to arrange talks the day before.

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Mr Burnham wrote to party leaders in Westminster urging them to help him secure a consistent new package for Tier 3 restrictions, warning that “this is not just a Greater Manchester issue”.

Backed by Liverpool Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, he called for a “full and fair furlough scheme” covering 80% of wages, or at least the national minimum wage, support for the self-employed and improved compensation for businesses.

“With the challenging winter that lies ahead of the country, it is likely that most places will find themselves in Tier 3 at some point before a vaccine is found,” Mr Burnham wrote.

“That is why we believe it is right for Parliament to debate and agree what is a fair level of support for people and businesses in those areas.”

Business leaders were also calling for greater support from the Treasury for firms forced to close in Tier 3, as well as those in Tier 2 who face “dramatically” hampered finances.

The British Chambers of Commerce told the Prime Minister that any new lockdown restrictions must come with “truly commensurate” financial support or risk “catastrophic economic consequences”.

The funding row rumbled on as new controls came into force on Saturday, meaning that 28 million people – more than half of England – are living under heightened restrictions.

Mr Johnson has been under increasing pressure to impose a short national lockdown known as a “circuit-breaker”, as recommended by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) and Labour.

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Asked if the Government would take the measure on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Mr Gove flatly replied: “No.”

But pressed on whether the measure could be taken in the future, he said that “blanket restrictions across the country” are not merited by the disease “at the moment”.

Sage member Professor Jeremy Farrar said it is “never too late” to impose the temporary national lockdown but the best time would have been last month, when Sage advised it.

“It’s better to do it now than in a month’s time,” he told Ridge.

In other developments:

– Conservative MPs clashed over Mr Burnham’s position, with a letter written by 20 Tories in Tier 1 constituencies calling for him to “engage” with the Government’s local response being criticised by colleagues.

– Liverpool City Region’s metro mayor Steve Rotherham said the area had secured a £44 million package from the Government to support firms hit the Tier 3 lockdown.

– There were a further 16,171 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK and an extra 150 deaths of people who had tested positive in the past 28 days, according to Government figures, which put the total at 43,579.

– Concerns were raised after it emerged that people who have been told to self-isolate through NHS Test and Trace could have their contact details shared with police.

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– Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said his brother had died after being admitted to intensive care with Covid-19.

– Wales will have a two-week circuit-breaker imposed next week, according to a leaked letter from the Confederation of Passenger Transport.

Lancashire joined the Liverpool region in entering Tier 3 on Saturday, with pubs and bars closed unless they can serve meals and household mixing banned indoors and in gardens.

Tier 2 measures were also introduced in London, Essex, York, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield.

They prohibit people mixing inside with those from other households, including in pubs and restaurants, renewing calls from businesses for greater financial support.

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