Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has said he would not “break the law” if Boris Johnson put the region into tier 3 coronavirus measures, but accused the government of trying to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic “on the cheap”.
Johnson is preparing to impose stringent new coronavirus controls on 2.8 million people in the region after talks with local leaders failed to reach agreement on Monday.
Burnham and other local leaders have been lobbying for a better financial support package before agreeing to the lockdown.
But communities Secretary Robert Jenrick warned local leaders on Monday night that they have until midday on Tuesday to reach a deal or face unilateral government action.
Appearing on Sky News on Tuesday morning, Burnham was asked what he would do if further restrictions were imposed.
The Labour mayor said: “Of course we wouldn’t break the law. We’ve never said that we would.
“We would obviously have to accept that decision, in the end it’s the government’s prerogative.
“But I would say to them at this point are they sure that that is a wise thing to do?”
Burnham said he simply wanted to ensure the lowest-paid people in the region were supported if tier 3 restrictions were brought in.
“If we go into a lockdown where we don’t support people who are in the lowest-paid professions we will have a mental health crisis on top of a pandemic,” he said. “We’re trying to respond to a pandemic on the cheap, that’s how it feels.
The leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese said he still hoped it would be possible to find an agreed way forward in the hours remaining.
However speaking to BBC Newsnight he also acknowledged they would have no choice but to comply if ministers decided to impose the most stringent Tier 3 restrictions.
Jenrick said that after 10 days of negotiations failed to reach an agreement, the deteriorating situation in the region meant the government had no choice but to act.
“There are now more Covid-19 patients in Greater Manchester hospitals than in the whole of the south west and south east combined,” he said in a statement late on Monday evening.
“But, unfortunately, despite recognising the gravity of the situation, local leaders have been so far unwilling to take the action that is required to get this situation under control.
“I have written to local leaders this evening to make clear that if we cannot reach agreement by midday tomorrow then I must advise the Prime Minister that despite our best endeavours we’ve been unable to reach agreement.”
Asked what would happen if there was no agreement, Jenrick said: “That is a matter for the prime minister.”
The imposition of tier 3 controls would mean a ban on households mixing – including in private gardens or outdoor hospitality settings – while pubs and bars will be forced to close unless they serve meals.
So far only Liverpool City Region and Lancashire have come under the tightest restrictions in England – in each case with the agreement of local leaders.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.