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Boris Johnson has been accused of causing “heartbreak” after he made a late U-turn over the relaxation of Christmas restrictions.
Speaking during a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister announced the festive bubble policy across Tier 1, 2 and 3 areas of England would be dramatically scaled back to just Christmas Day.
He also said London and areas in the South-East would be placed in a stricter Tier 4 system and be banned from mixing at Christmas in a bid to prevent a new strain of COVID-19 from spreading rapidly.
Labour leader Keir Starmer criticised Johnson for his late decision after he had refused to review the Christmas bubble plan on Wednesday when asked at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).
He said: “The prime minister has a habit of pushing away challenge of refusing to see a problem until it later confronts him and I think lots of families will be saying ‘How has this come about at the 11th hour in this way?’.”
Watch: Boris Johnson cancels Chrismas meet-ups for Tier 4
Starmer, who confirmed Labour would be supporting the Tier 4 restrictions, added: “I think the heartbreak of millions of families will be made much greater by the fact that the prime minister only three days ago was saying ‘have a merry little Christmas’ when we were challenging him on this, and now says ‘I’m going to rip up your plans’.”
“I think overall, the public will be saying, ‘Just when we want certainty, just when we want leadership, we've got inconsistency and confusion.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also criticised the PM for the way he had handled the announcement.
He added: “London and the country are paying the price for the Government’s continued failure to get a handle on the pandemic.
“This continued chaos and confusion could all have been avoided had the government not made irresponsible promises to the public and raised expectations about the Christmas period.”
Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs which has been highly critical of the government’s strategy, called for Parliament be recalled so MPs could debate and vote on the changes.
He said: “This is a very sad day. Lockdowns and increasingly severe tiered restrictions have failed in their goal of slowing the transmission of Covid.
“And now the Government is expecting people to sacrifice the chance to share Christmas with family, friends and loved ones, just a few days after promising the opposite.
“If the Government wants the support of the public and Parliament, it must publish a clear exit strategy from this nightmarish, cycle of damaging lockdowns and restrictions.”
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said the hospitality sector had “lost all confidence” in the government strategy for tackling COVID-19.
He added: “The unrelenting closing and reopening of businesses is costing owners hundreds of thousands of pounds, and coupled with the erratic decision-making around restrictions, is rapidly destroying the ability of the sector to bounce back.”
Which? consumer rights expert Adam French said: “These new restrictions will cause massive travel disruption and chaos, leaving many peoples’ festive plans in tatters.”
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