Monday 12 October 2020 / 5:02 PM Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer responds to the Prime Minister’s statement in the House about new Covid-19 restrictions

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Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, responding to the Prime Minister’s statement in the House about new Covid-19 restrictions, said:


“Mr Speaker, we are now at a critical moment. A ‘tipping point’ to quote the Deputy Chief Medical Officer.


“We’ve all seen the clear – and alarming – trend in infection rates.


“The virus is now spreading in all areas of the UK – though much faster in some than others.


“There are more patients in hospital with Covid today than when the country went into lockdown on 23 March.


“Nobody should be under any illusion about where this is heading. Or of the need for decisive action.


“The question today is whether the restrictions announced by the Prime Minister can bring the country back from the brink.


“Whether they can regain control of the virus and provide the support and confidence that local businesses and communities need.


“That’s how high the stakes now are.


“So we will consider the package. We will look at the small print of the Prime Minister’s statement, we will discuss them with local mayors, councillors and leaders in the areas most affected. And we’ll scrutinise the economic package that sits alongside it.


“But I have to say to the Prime Minister, I am now deeply sceptical that the Government has actually got a plan to get control of this virus, to protect jobs or regain public trust.


“We have tried to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt, but it increasingly feels like the Prime Minister is several steps behind the curve and running to catch up with a virus that he has lost control of long ago.


“It was less than three weeks ago – 22 September – the Prime Minister came to this House to announce new restrictions.


“He said then that the measures he was introducing would ‘curb the number of daily infections’. And were ‘carefully judged to achieved the maximum reduction in the R number’.


“That has not happened. Those measures have not worked. We would not be here today if they had.


“And there’s a pattern here:


“On 1 July the Prime Minister told us of his new ‘whack a mole’ strategy to control local outbreaks.


“Twenty areas have now been in restrictions for over two months.


“Nineteen have seen their infection rates rise – some by very large amounts. So those measures have also not worked.


“In May the Prime Minister boasted of the ‘world beating’ track and trace system. He told us it would be ‘a real game changer’ in the fight against the virus.


“We have debated this many times since. But last week the figures were the worst yet.


“In June he promised that 100% of test results would be turned around within 24 hours.


“The latest figure for in-person testing is just 24 per cent.


“This serial failure, combined with the repeated leaks and briefings to newspapers has fatally eroded public confidence just when we need it most.


“So can the Prime Minister tell us: What reassurance can he give that these measures will be sufficient to get the virus under control? Will he finally accept that trace and isolate should be handed over to local authorities – as we have said for months? Will he accept that the support packages announced by the Chancellor simply won’t work for many thousands of people. Particularly for those on the minimum wage? And will he confirm that mayors, council leaders and local leaders will be fully involved in any future decisions?


“Finally, I want to say this to the Prime Minister: I know there are those on his side who will oppose further restrictions. There will be those who look at the data and tell him to disregard it. Or say that the cost of acting now is too high.


“I want to be clear: The worst thing the Prime Minister can do is not act quickly and decisively enough. Or to keep coming back to this House every couple of weeks with a new plan that doesn’t work and isn’t up to the scale of the task.


“We need to break that cycle, finally get on top of the virus, rebuild public confidence.


“I hope the measures announced today will do so.


“But the House, and the country, will be deeply sceptical whether they can.”