Italy as a whole, rather than just the northern regions, has gone into lockdown. The spread of coronavirus means no travel and no socialising for 60 million people in Italy, which has the highest number of cases after China. In the UK, we’re still in the ‘containment’ phase but expect to be transitioning into the ‘delay’ stage soon. While requesting an update on the government response, Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth pointed out yesterday that the NHS is short of 100,000 staff, and critical care beds were at 81% capacity during the week. That funding boost in the Budget tomorrow will have to be significant.
There are plenty of other concerns that the government has not yet fully addressed. During the Commons discussion, Clive Efford raised the issue of people on zero-hour contracts, particularly in the hospitality industry, being laid off and left in financial difficulty. Rachel Reeves asked how the government was pressuring businesses such as Uber and Deliveroo to ensure that workers they use are able to self-isolate. The TUC is calling for a joint taskforce between trade unions, employers and government agencies, as Diana Johnson highlighted. Again, there will be plenty to scrutinise in the Budget with these requirements in mind.
Lisa Nandy is again on the front foot out of the Labour leadership candidates in terms of demanding specific action as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. In a Guardian article, she has called on Boris Johnson to extend the transition period with the EU. It is not just that political leaders in EU countries are testing positive for coronavirus, and they already have enough to be getting on with as they implement emergency measures that affect every department and policy area. Nandy makes the point that business and communities will already be having to cope with enough uncertainty without the looming prospect of no deal, and that “British companies who trade with the EU do not know what terms they’ll be trading on in 10 months’ time”.
Rishi Sunak confirmed on Sunday that the Budget would include support for business with “cash flow” problems due to coronavirus. But asked whether the government would consider extending the Brexit transition period, the new Chancellor replied: “No, I think very clearly the Prime Minister has been clear that we don’t want to extend the transition period. I think people are fed up of having more delays.” Let us remember, however, that it was Labour’s Keir Starmer who first called for any kind of transition period with single market membership. And it was an idea that was first resisted but eventually adopted as an ‘implementation phase’ by Theresa May. It would not be surprising if we saw the same need to play catch-up here.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.