How the Greater Manchester Covid lockdown standoff unfolded

Josh Halliday and Helen Pidd
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The UK government has presented Greater Manchester leaders with a deadline of 12pm on Tuesday to agree to take their region into tier 3 coronavirus restrictions. This is how events have unfolded over the past 11 days.

Friday 9 October

The Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, and council leaders hold first meeting with government officials about imposing tier 3 restrictions, meaning the closure of “wet-led” pubs, bars and other venues. Local leaders are told that the financial package outlined by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, including the controversial 67% furlough, is “not open for negotiation”. Burnham and other local leaders criticise the level of support, calling for it to be increased to the original 80% furlough plus other demands.

Monday 12 October

Boris Johnson announces his intention to put a large swathe of northern England into tier 3 restrictions but the proposals are immediately undermined by Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, who at the same press conference says the baseline measures – closing pubs – “will not be sufficient” to curb the number of soaring cases. The Liverpool city region becomes the first part of England to enter tier 3 from Wednesday.

Wednesday 14 October

Opposition to tier 3 grows in Greater Manchester. A letter from the region’s 10 council leaders setting out their objections, sent at the weekend, has not received a response. Local leaders are told in a briefing by Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, that deaths will continue to rise for at least three weeks unless tough action is taken – however, he also raises doubts about whether tier 3 will be sufficient. Burnham accuses ministers of putting pressure on northern regions to accept a “morally wrong” and “fundamentally flawed” lockdown.

Thursday 15 October

The standoff escalates as Burnham and his two deputy mayors hold a press conference outside Manchester Central Library, refusing to accept the region being treated “as canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy”. Greater Manchester’s nine Conservative MPs support the Labour mayor’s opposition to tier 3.

Friday 16 October

Boris Johnson hits back at Burnham, saying he will have no choice but to impose tier 3 on Greater Manchester in his own press conference. He says every day of delay would mean “more people would die”. Lancashire becomes the second part of England to enter tier 3 but Greater Manchester leaders vow to hold firm.

Saturday 17 October

The bishop of Manchester, Rev David Walker, intervenes to say the restrictions imposed by the government “smacks of a Westminster-based mentality that has little care” for the area. The chief constable of Greater Manchester, Ian Hopkins, issues a public statement to deny claims in the Telegraph that his force would not police a tier 3 lockdown.

Sunday 18 October

After a one-on-one call with Johnson’s chief strategic adviser, Eddie Lister, Burnham urges political leaders in Westminster to “break the impasse” and hold a parliamentary vote to decide the level of financial aid for areas under the strictest tier 3 restrictions. Tory MPs in Greater Manchester lambast their southern colleagues for a letter sent to Burnham and Keir Starmer suggesting they should accept regional lockdowns to save southern constituencies with low infection rates.

Monday 19 October

Burnham insists he will not “roll over for a cheque”. Later, Greater Manchester’s leaders hope to strike a deal in a meeting with Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary. The call begins positively, with talk of the government establishing a new “hardship fund” to help the lowest paid, as a positive alternative to the 80% furlough demand. But suddenly the idea is “taken off the table” and deadlock continues. Just after 10pm, Jenrick issues an ultimatum via the media, threatening to impose tier 3 on Greater Manchester if a deal isn’t reached by noon on Tuesday.

Tuesday 20 October

The day of reckoning. Sir Richard Leese, Burnham’s deputy mayor and the leader of Manchester city council, suggests Greater Manchester is willing to drop its 80% furlough demand, as the Treasury made it clear it was “an absolute red line”. The clock ticks.