Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham to “reconsider” his opposition to new coronavirus restrictions, and said he would “intervene” if progress in talks is not made.
Burnham has resisted the government’s plans to put Manchester under “high alert”, meaning it would face the tightest restrictions.
The Labour mayor has argued that the government’s economic support is not enough. He has also questioned whether the local lockdown policy is effective and suggested a national “circuit breaker” would be better.
Earlier in the week, Burnham said: “It is wrong to place some of the poorest parts of England in a punishing lockdown without proper support for the people and businesses affected.”
Johnson today directly addressed the Manchester mayor in a televised press conference.
“I must stress the situation in Greater Manchester is grave and it worsens with each passing day,” the Prime Minister said.
“Cases doubled in the last nine days. High infection rates are creeping up the age range… So I urge the mayor to reconsider and engage constructively.”
Johnson added: “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.” Yet he stopped short of announcing intervention now.
Argument over Manchester lockdown continues
The PM argued that the lockdown policies have been accompanied by “significant support” for workers and businesses.
Johnson flagged the job support scheme, which would pay two-thirds of the wages of workers in businesses that are forced to close. And he said the universal credit benefits system was now more generous.
Yet Burnham again said today that the offer for the low paid and self-employed is not enough. The government has cut the furlough scheme so it would pay two-thirds of wages, rather than 80 per cent.
Johnson’s speech came after the government put Lancashire in the highest tier of the new restrictions system.
The government unveiled a new three tier system earlier this week. Tier 1 means the risk level is medium; Tier 2 that it is high; and Tier 3 that it is very high.
Being in Tier 3 means pubs and bars in Lancashire will have to close. The county’s more than 1m residents will be banned from mixing with anybody they do not live with.