New coronavirus restrictions are “necessary” but were “not inevitable” and represent the government’s failure, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said.
From Thursday, pubs, bars and restaurants will have to close at 10pm under a series of new COVID-19 measures set out by Boris Johnson.
In a Labour Party broadcast, used as a response to the prime minister’s TV address, Sir Keir offered his support for the government’s action but blamed ministers for the recent rise in coronavirus cases.
“While these restrictions are now necessary, they were not inevitable,” he said.
“The return of this virus, and the return of restrictions, are not an act of God; they’re a failure of government.
“The British people have done everything asked of them, but I’m afraid the government has not.
“We’re a great country, we shouldn’t have one of the highest death rates in the world, or one of the worst recessions.
“It’s a national scandal that we still don’t have a testing system that works or a plan to protect our care homes.
“It shouldn’t be like this – people shouldn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to get a test for their child for themselves or for their relatives.
“And we should be able to give our older people the dignity, security and respect they deserve.”
Sir Keir called on the government to fix the problems with its testing programme “fast”.
And he urged ministers to come up with a “plan B” for the economy ahead of the furlough scheme for workers ending in October.
“It makes no sense to bring in new restrictions at the same time as phasing out support for jobs and businesses,” he added.
Sir Keir warned of a “wave of job losses this winter” as he reiterated his offer to work with the prime minister on a “national effort to protect jobs and prevent a second lockdown”.
“That offer remains open and my door is always open,” he said.
On Thursday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to update the House of Commons on the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
But it is understood that Mr Sunak will not publish another budget this year, despite previous suggestions he was preparing another economic announcement for November.
Sir Keir had earlier explained, in an interview with Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby, that Labour was supporting the government’s new coronavirus restrictions as “a matter of principle”.
“It’s very important that communications are clear, and they will only be clear if it’s done on a cross-party basis and we’re all saying, as they are, ‘follow the government advice’,” he said.
But he added that Labour’s support was accompanied by two concerns.
“One is that, just when we need testing to be really effective, it’s near collapse,” he said.
“The other is that, as the government is introducing new health restrictions, it’s phasing out economic support.
“Businesses, trade unions, the CBI, the governor of the Bank of England – you name it – they’re desperate to say to the prime minister ‘think again’.
“Because businesses now, as a result of these new restrictions, are going to be put under huge strain and you owe it to them to put a support mechanism in place.
“The government really should have done that yesterday, so it’s already slow into this.”
Despite Labour’s support for the coronavirus restrictions, Sir Keir questioned the prime minister’s “character” in dealing with the pandemic.
“It’s very rare, in all of our lives, that the whole nation is going through something together and they’re looking to the government – and the prime minister in particular – and they’re totally reliant,” he said.
“They want the government to succeed because, if the government fails, then it has an implication for every family on the health side, and every family on the job side.
“Character really matters at a time like this.”
Asked if he personally disliked Mr Johnson, Sir Keir replied: “I’m frustrated that, just when our nation needs leadership, we’ve got serial incompetence and it really matters.”
He added: “The prime minister and the government, collectively, are guilty, in my view, of serial incompetence – there have been 12 U-turns.
“I’m quite prepared to accept that a government will make mistakes in a pandemic like this and one or two U-turns are probably a sign of a government listening and then changing.
“But when you’ve got 12 in a row, the only conclusion is serial incompetence.”
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Pressed on whether he thought Mr Johnson should resign as prime minister, Sir Keir replied: “He has not led us through this pandemic well.
“We’ve got one of the highest death rates in the world, and we’re heading – on current forecasts – for one of the deepest recessions.
“Our country is better than that, we deserve better than that.”