Keir Starmer has revealed that Labour will abstain on the House of Commons vote tomorrow on the new Covid regulations tier system amid reports that dozens of Conservative MPs are planning to rebel.
Commenting ahead of the crucial vote in parliament on Tuesday, the Labour leader accepted the need for continued Covid restrictions but voiced his concerns about Boris Johnson’s management of the pandemic.
Starmer said: “Coronavirus remains a serious threat to the public’s health and that’s why Labour accept the need for continued restrictions. We will always act in the national interest, so we will not vote against these restrictions in parliament tomorrow.
“However, I remain deeply concerned that Boris Johnson’s government has failed to use this latest lockdown to put a credible health and economic plan in place.
“We still don’t have a functioning testing system, public health messaging is confused, and businesses across the country are crying out for more effective economic support to get them through the winter months.
“It is short-term government incompetence that is causing long-term damage to the British economy. It is imperative that the government gets control of the virus so that our NHS can be protected and our economy recovers faster.”
The comments from the Labour leader come amid growing disquiet in Downing Street over a rebellion from the Tory backbenches. As many as 70 Conservative MPs are thought to be considering voting against the government.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the return of the tiered, regional approach to coronavirus restrictions across the UK last week and revealed which areas would see the strictest measures when the lockdown lifts.
London will return to Tier 2 after the lockdown in England. Liverpool has been moved into Tier 2, but Greater Manchester remains in Tier 3 despite being under tough rules since July. Birmingham will enter Tier 3.
Across all three tiers in England, shops, gyms and hairdressers will be allowed to open, while collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports will resume and the rule of six for gatherings of people will apply.
Government ministers have said that the tiered system will be reviewed regularly and the tier level of any area may change before Christmas, with the first review of the allocations set to take place on December 16th.
Starmer last week accused the Prime Minister of reintroducing a “risky” system after Johnson announced that England would return to the three-tier system. He said: “There are huge gaps in this plan, huge uncertainties and huge risk.”
Despite many Tory MPs and several Labour MPs expected to vote against the new rules, they are expected to pass as the Prime Minister has a majority of 80 in the Commons and Labour will whip to abstain rather than oppose.
The government has tonight accused Starmer of “playing politics” during Covid by abstaining, however. “While Keir Starmer claims he offers new leadership, it’s clear to all that he actually offers no leadership at all,” a No 10 spokesman said.
The return to the three-tier Covid-19 rules system will be voted on by MPs just hours before they are due to come into place, with the lockdown set to end at 12am on Wednesday if the fresh restrictions are approved.
Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for South Shields, has spoken out against the whip to abstain and declared that Starmer should instead offer a free vote. “We can no longer sit on our hands and keep approving measures if we don’t agree,” she said.
Richard Burgon MP, considered to be on the Labour left, declared today that he would not be voting for the new Covid measures, saying the “current plans fall well short of what is needed and I can’t support them”.