‘He’s bargaining with lives’: PM attacked over fears millions will be trapped in Tier 3 for months on end

Watch: Moment Starmer tells Johnson ‘stop bargaining with people’s lives’

  • Keir Starmer tells Boris Johnson to ‘stop bargaining with people’s lives’ as he accuses PM of not supporting Greater Manchester through Tier 3 lockdown

  • In latest PMQs clash, Labour leader raises prospect of people being stuck in Tier 3 ‘for months’ if R rate does not fall

  • Johnson insists government has supported Greater Manchester amid bitter row with local leaders

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Boris Johnson has been accused of “bargaining with people’s lives” amid fears millions of people in Tier 3 lockdown areas could be stuck on reduced incomes for months on end.

It comes after a row with leaders in Greater Manchester resulted in Downing Street forcing the region into the toughest possible lockdown with a financial package lower than the leaders had been demanding.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer raised the prospect of millions of people being stuck under Tier 3 restrictions – Liverpool, Lancashire and South Yorkshire are also in Tier 3 – “for months” if the coronavirus reproduction “R” rate does not fall below 1.

He told Johnson: “If the R rate hasn’t come below 1, then the infection rate is still going up, the numbers are going up, the admissions are going up, the numbers in hospital are going up, the deaths are going up.

“Is the PM seriously saying he would take a Tier 3 area out of Tier 3 with the R above 1? I don’t think so.”

Boris Johnson reacts after Sir Keir Starmer accuses him of 'bargaining with people's lives' over the Tier 3 lockdown in Greater Manchester. (Parliamentlive.tv)
Boris Johnson reacts after Sir Keir Starmer accuses him of 'bargaining with people's lives' over the Tier 3 lockdown in Greater Manchester. (Parliamentlive.tv)

Starmer said thousands of people in Greater Manchester, from taxi drivers to betting shop staff, will either be out of work or facing significant pay cuts when the restrictions come into force on Friday.

“But their rent and mortgage won’t be lower, their food and heating bills won’t be lower… and that could last for months,” he said.

“Why can’t the PM and chancellor understand this? Stop bargaining with people’s lives, stop dividing communities, and provide the support that’s needed in Manchester.”

Johnson insisted the government has supported Greater Manchester financially and said mayor Andy Burnham “was offered a further £60m which he turned down”.

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The PM then announced the money will nonetheless be distributed to the region.

However, he didn’t address Starmer’s point about the R rate staying at or above the key figure of 1, only saying areas’ Tier 3 status will be reviewed every 28 days.

At a House of Commons select committee earlier on Wednesday, Prof John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises Downing Street on the pandemic, said Tier 3 restrictions are unlikely to push the R rate below 1.

R represents the average number of people each COVID-positive person goes on to infect. When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially.

Read more: Sage adviser says Boris Johnson 'not being cautious enough'

Prof Edmunds told MPs: “I don’t think anyone thinks this [Tier 3] is going to reduce it to less than 1.” He said Tier 3 lockdowns will only “keep the incidence at this high level”.

He argued that a “circuit breaker” national lockdown, something which Sage recommended last month but Johnson resisted, would hold COVID-19 incidence at a “lower level” and reduce hospital admissions.

Starmer himself has called for a circuit breaker lasting up to three weeks.

Watch: How will England’s three-tier lockdown system work?

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