Sir Keir Starmer has launched an attack on the chancellor – blaming Rishi Sunak for delaying a second coronavirus lockdown.
“Make no mistake, the chancellor’s name is all over this,” the Labour leader told the Confederation of British Industry conference in London.
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Sir Keir said Mr Sunak’s “decision to block a circuit breaker” and to “dismiss it as a ‘blunt instrument'” would have far-reaching effects.
It will “now mean that businesses have to close for longer, more people will lose their jobs and the public finances will be worse than they needed to be”, he added.
The Labour leader said: “It makes me so angry. And so frustrated that when the British people – and British businesses – have given so much and made so many sacrifices they have been let down so badly by the government.”
Sir Keir said Boris Johnson and Mr Sunak had “failed to learn”, “failed to listen” and “failed to lead”.
The Labour leader called for a “circuit breaker” lockdown – a two to three-week shutdown over the October half-term – last month.
His call came after it was revealed that scientists advising the government had recommended a short lockdown back in September.
The PM did not explicitly rule out another national lockdown in the days and weeks that followed – but he consistently spoke out against the idea, including describing such a course of action as the “height of absurdity”.
Mr Sunak described it as a “blunt instrument” that would “cause needless damage to parts of our country where virus rates are low”.
However, the PM announced on Saturday that a four-week lockdown in England will begin on Thursday and – as it stands – last until 2 December.
Mr Johnson will face MPs later, and in his address to the Commons, the PM will signal his determination for the lockdown to end after four weeks.
Questions over whether the lockdown will be extended further were raised after cabinet minister Michael Gove told Sky News on Sunday that could happen “if necessary”.
Sir Keir said the government had been “slow to act again” and called on ministers not to “waste” the breathing space afforded by the lockdown.
“They must be used to fix Test, Trace and Isolate – and to give control to local authorities,” he told the CBI conference.
“To get a grip on messaging and rebuild public trust.
“And to provide a clear and transparent road map to protect businesses and the NHS over the months to come.”
The Labour leader’s attack on the chancellor – who has been thrust into the spotlight by the COVID-19 pandemic – will be seen as an attempt to damage the public standing of Mr Sunak.
The chancellor’s performance in recent months has seen him being talked about as a potential future Tory leader among sections of the media and the Conservative Party.
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