Sir Keir Starmer urges Boris Johnson to ignore his lockdown-sceptic MPs

Lucy Fisher
·3-min read
Sir Keir Starmer -  Getty Images
Sir Keir Starmer - Getty Images

Sir Keir Starmer has urged the Prime Minister not to listen to his lockdown-sceptic backbenchers who have suggested the route out of lockdown could be accelerated.

On Wednesday, the Labour leader said the principles behind Boris Johnson’s four-step roadmap out of restrictions were “plainly right”, but added that the blueprint was threatened by Tory MPs’ claims about the virus.

The national recovery is being undermined by “people saying that Covid statistics ‘appear to have been manipulated’ and that Monday’s road map is based on ‘dodgy assumptions’ and ‘false modelling’,” the opposition figure said during Prime Minister’s Questions.

He said the comments were “irresponsible” and derived from Conservative MPs, lashing out at the “60 or so members of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG)” who have questioned aspects of the coronavirus lockdown.

“Perhaps the Prime Minister should have a word with them,” Sir Keir said.

Mr Johnson side-stepped the issue, responding that his roadmap would set the nation on a “cautious but irreversible journey to freedom”.

He said the data supporting his plan, which states that the final tranche of restrictions will not be lifted until June 21 at the earliest, has been published.

The intervention came after senior Tory Mark Harper, chairman of the CRG, expressed scepticism about some of the assumptions on which the Government roadmap was based.

"There is a clear and concerning pattern of assumptions not reflecting the (much more positive!) reality,” Mr Harper said on Twitter, adding: "At the very least, this raises some serious questions about the extent to which these models should be relied on.”

He suggested that Government estimates may be overly cautious when compared with some other published datasets on the speed of the vaccine rollout; the jab’s impact on infections, hospitalisations and deaths; and its rate of take up.

Mr Harper hit back against Sir Keir’s attack, suggesting that if the Labour leader “spent less time flailing over my Twitter threads and considering whether to topple statues, he might do less dreadfully in the polls”.

The Tory MP, a former chief whip, demanded to know which part of his analysis Sir Keir rejected.

Clamour has grown among some business groups, as well as Tory MPs, for a faster pace of unlocking.

Government sources this week told The Telegraph that restrictions could be eased more quickly than Mr Johnson’s roadmap sets out, if the real world data is more positive than anticipated.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the Commons, also indicated on his “Moggcast” podcast that there could be “flexibility” if the Government kept “smashing” vaccine targets.

The Government has insisted that the tentative dates scheduled for easements in April, May and June are the earliest junctures at which those relaxations could happen.

Government Covid promises not kept
Government Covid promises not kept

Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, set out the justification for leaving a minimum five-week gap between each step of the roadmap on Wednesday evening.

Speaking during a televised Downing Street press conference, she said: “The timelines have been set for very good public health reasons.

"We need to be able to see the change in infection rates, the development of illness, the effect of the vaccine and the effect on hospitalisations in the NHS, and all of that takes time. It usually takes a week or 10 days or so for a particular intervention to embed.”

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, said: “There are no plans whatsoever to be moving ahead and the dates have already been given.

“We want to give the public as well as business confidence and the assurance as to when these next steps are going to be happening. But there's certainly no plans to be moving ahead of that."