Johnson in Covid ultimatum to Greater Manchester

Local leaders told they have until midday on Tuesday to agree to Tier 3 restrictions or face unilateral Government action.

Coronavirus – Mon Oct 19, 2020
Coronavirus – Mon Oct 19, 2020

Boris Johnson is preparing to impose stringent new coronavirus controls on 2.8 million people in Greater Manchester after talks with local leaders failed to reach agreement.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick warned civic chiefs on Monday night that they have until midday on Tuesday to reach a deal or face unilateral Government action.

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 he acknowledged they would have no choice but to comply if ministers decided to impose the most stringent Tier 3 restrictions.

Coronavirus
Boris Johnson has warned the Government is ready to act unilaterally (Yui Mok/PA)

“I am hoping that tomorrow (Tuesday) morning we will be able to sit down again with ministers and come to an agreement which will serve the best interests of the people of Manchester,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.

“Clearly if Government imposes Tier 3 – and I hope that won’t happen – we will clearly need to comply with that.”

There was anger among some of those involved in the negotiations at what they said was the use of “selective statistics” by the Government to raise concern about the public health situation in the region.

In a joint statement with Sir Richard, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham also complained that a previous offer of financial support had been withdrawn by ministers.

Mr Jenrick, however, 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.

“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, Mr 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.

Mr Jenrick’s statement follows a warning last week by Boris Johnson that the Government would act to impose the stricter measures in Greater Manchester they could not get agreement locally.

It came after the latest talks on Monday between the region’s leaders and the Government broke up without a deal.

In their statement, Mr Burnham and Sir Richard said they still hoped for a “positive outcome”.

But at the same time they made clear their determination to hold out for a financial support package.

They said it was “surprising and disappointing” that an earlier offer of a hardship fund to top up furlough payments and support the self-employed had been taken “off the table” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“This evening we have written to the Prime Minister reiterating our willingness to continue to work towards an agreement but reminding him that Greater Manchester has been in Tier 2 style restrictions for almost three months, and that this has taken a toll on people and businesses here,” they said.

“With this in mind, we do not believe it is in any way unreasonable for us to require better protection for our lowest-paid residents.”

Mr Burnham and Sir Richard also hit out at Downing Street for using “selective statistics” to raise concern about the public health situation in the region.

It followed a warning from a Government spokesman that the entire intensive care capacity in Greater Manchester could be filled with Covid-19 patients by November 12 unless action was taken.

However the two leaders insisted the region’s intensive care occupancy rate was not abnormal for this time of year.

“We are not complacent about the position in our hospitals and are monitoring the situation closely,” the said.

“But in the current situation, we believe it is essential that our residents are given clear, accurate information about the state of the NHS in Greater Manchester and that public fears are not raised unnecessarily.”

Mr Jenrick insisted the discussions – which have been going on for 10 days – had been conducted in “good faith”.

He said said they had offered an extensive package “proportionate” to the approach taken in the Liverpool City Region and Lancashire.

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