Sunday 20 December 2020 / 11:21 AM Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer speech on latest coronavirus restictions

***Check against delivery***

Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, speaking at a press conference on the new coronavirus restrictions, said:

Yesterday’s announcement about restrictions over Christmas was heart breaking.

This has been such a difficult year for everyone. The British public have been asked to make so many sacrifices.

And now – with just days to go – millions of families are having to tell children and loved ones, that their plans for Christmas cannot go ahead.

I know just how devastating that is. I know the hurt people are feeling – and the anger – because Christmas is more than just a holiday. It is a part of who we are as a nation.

Sadly, the measures the Government announced yesterday are necessary and we support them.

But there is no getting away from the fact – and what angers people the most and frustrates me the most is that – yet again – the Prime Minister waited until the eleventh hour to take this decision.

It was blatantly obvious last week that the Prime Minister’s plan for a free-for-all over Christmas was a risk too far. And yet, rather listening to concerns and taking them seriously the Prime Minister did what he always does.

Dismissed the challenge, ruffled his hair and made a flippant comment.

The Prime Minister’s claim that this is all down to a new form of the virus that has only just emerged just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

On Monday last week, the Health Secretary told the House of Commons about a new strain of the virus.

On Tuesday, medical professionals warned the lifting of restrictions over Christmas would be a ‘major error’ and I called for a review.

On Wednesday, I challenged the Prime Minister to toughen up the restrictions.

We have known about rising infections and the NHS reaching capacity in many parts of the country for weeks.

The new strain was actually first spotted in September. The alarms bells have been ringing for weeks, but the Prime Minister chose to ignore them.

A virus of this sort demands early action. Decisive action. A clear plan and a clear message. Yet we have had none of that.

The Prime Minister delayed. He told the country to go ahead and have a merry little Christmas. Told people in London and the South East to carry on shopping. And to make plans to see families.

And yet, three days later he tells millions of families to rip up those plans. And introduces further restrictions.

What I want to know this morning, and what everyone across the country wants to know this morning is this: How on earth did this happen?

How could the Government allow people to go on as they were, when they knew they had lost control of the virus?

It is an act of gross negligence by a Prime Minister who once again has been caught behind the curve.

Who once again offered confusion, not clarity.

Who undermined public confidence.

Who always over promises and under delivers.

And who is now asking the British people to pay the price for his incompetence.

No one expects the Government to get it right all of the time. But a government that fails to learn from its mistakes ends up making the same mistakes over and over again.

Month after month, week after week.

We have a Prime Minister who is so scared of being unpopular that he is incapable of taking tough decisions until it is too late. Whether that was going into lockdown in the first place extending the furlough scheme, bringing in a circuit break in October to protect the economy and now Christmas.

It is this indecision and weak leadership that is costing lives and it is costing jobs.

As a result, the United Kingdom ends 2020 with one of the highest death tolls in Europe the deepest recession of any major economy, with the virus once again out of control and with Christmas cancelled for millions.

My message to the Prime Minister is simple: We cannot go on like this.

We can’t start next year as we have ended this. Our country needs you to show political leadership. There can be no more dither. No more delay. No more fearing bad headlines.

No more wishful thinking, no more empty promises.

Prime Minister you need to get the virus back under control; so we can get our economy going; and get our children back into school in January.

The British people have done everything asked of them. Our NHS and social care workers have done everything asked of them – and more.

Our key workers – police officers, fire fighters, supermarket workers and posties – have kept us going.

Our businesses have stepped up. Our communities have pulled together. Now all of them – the British people – expect their Government to deliver.

2021 can be the year of recovery, but only if the Government gets it right.

That’s why I renew my offer today to work with you and the Government to get this right.

To secure our economy by supporting businesses in the toughest restrictions.

To protect our NHS by ensuring it has the staff and resources to care for people throughout the winter months.

And to rebuild our country by guaranteeing the swift and safe roll out of the vaccine.

These are the priorities of the British people.

They are Labour priorities.

And they are my priorities.

Finally, to everyone who has had to cancel plans.

To all those who have the increasingly familiar feeling that they have been let down or abandoned.

Who can’t see an end to the gloom and the bad news.

Or who are having to spend Christmas alone.

I am truly sorry.

But please don’t lose faith.

This winter will pass.

This pandemic will end.

And when it does we will be reunited with our loved ones, and with the places and the things we miss.

And we will build a better country, together.

Thank you.