Sunday shows: Labour rejects NEU plan for school opening delay until Jan 18

The Andrew Marr Show

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy confirmed that Labour backs the toughening of rules over Christmas. She also said Labour was not rethinking its opposition to school closures, and the party does not agree that the reopening of secondary schools should be delayed until January 18th as advocated by the National Education Union (NEU).

  • On whether Labour supports the new Christmas rules: “Yes. We’ve been asking the government all week to revise the Christmas restrictions in light of the new virulent strain of the virus. It’s absolutely right they’ve taken action, we just cannot believe they’ve taken so long.”
  • She added: “It’s absolutely wrong that the Prime Minister was in the House of Commons mocking and ridiculing concerns raised by Keir Starmer on Wednesday, yet a few days later was forced to accept what everybody could see was about to happen.”
  • On whether the government could have acted sooner on Christmas rules: “Matt Hancock knew about the strain last weekend.”
  • On whether Labour is rethinking its position on school closures: “No, we want the government to get mass testing into schools. We’ve been asking for that for a month… Children need to be in school.”
  • On the NEU’s Kevin Courtney backing later January returns for secondary schools: “I think he’s right to say headteachers have been put in an impossible situation and that this is really difficult for them.”
  • Pressed further on whether secondary schools should not reopen until January 18th, as suggested by the NEU: “No, we want schools to reopen and children to be back in the classroom. But we want to make sure that happens safely and we want the government to bring in much more support over the next couple of weeks to make sure schools can do that.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock declared that the new variant of Covid-19 is “out of control” and said school staff would have to work on mass testing over the Christmas break.

  • On whether his own recent assertion that ’the virus is under control’ is true: “No, it’s not. The new variant is out of control.”
  • On whether travel restrictions will be enforced: “Of course. I’ve spoken to the Home Secretary and the British Transport Police’s responsibility is to police the transport system. But I will hope this will be done by consent, as it has been so often.”
  • Pressed on whether police will stop people from travelling: “Yes, of course. It’s the police’s responsibility to police the law.”
  • He confirmed that people are allowed to return home to a Tier 4 area.
  • On the impact on NHS capacity: “Of course I’m worried about the NHS.”
  • Asked whether another national lockdown is inevitable: “Well, not necessarily. One of the reasons we brought in the strict travel movements on Tier 4… is to stop this new variant from spreading.”
  • On the WHO saying the new variant was known from September: “In October, they spotted the new variant from a sample that had been taken in September. Just over a week ago, this pattern was spotted in Kent where it was growing fast. I was told about the new variant last Friday… On Friday afternoon, the scientists said we now know there is causality.”
  • On whether schools may have to close again in a fresh lockdown: “I’ve learnt not to rule anything out in this pandemic, but the plan is for schools to open with the staggered start we’ve described.”
  • On schools having to implement mass testing by January: “It’s not impossible, and I’ll tell you why, because it’s already happening in some schools where we’ve piloted. There are three weeks between now and the start of term… There is going to be some work over the Christmas break, and that’s fine.”
  • On Brexit: “I hope the EU moves on its unreasonable demands that I don’t think anybody could reasonably accept. And then we can get a trade deal.”

Sophy Ridge on Sunday

London mayor Sadiq Khan told viewers this morning that cancelling the planned five-day relaxation of household mixing rules over the Christmas period is right but warned that the capital faces a “perfect storm” next month.

  • Asked whether he supports the ban on household mixing at Christmas: “I do… We’ve got to recognise this virus is spreading fast. Six out of ten Londoners who have the virus have this new strain.”
  • On London hospitals: “We have the same number of patients in our hospitals as in-patients with Covid as we had in the peak in April and this is the month before January, which is the busiest month of the year for our NHS.”
  • On Covid restrictions in London: “Many of us were saying, look it doesn’t make sense for London to go from enforcement to Tier 2, to Tier 3 – effectively to Tier 0 over Christmas – and then back to Tier 3.”
  • On the impact of restrictions on the economy: “This will not just be the worst Christmas we’ve had since the Second World War, it’s the worst year we’ve had since the Second World War.”
  • He added: “We’ve been pleading with the government for a roadmap to recovery, but also for additional support. Our sectors need to make sure these businesses that have closed temporarily haven’t got permanent closures.”
  • On the tier system: “The current tiering system is ineffective… The hospital numbers we have are about a two-week lag and the reality is January is the busiest month of the year, year-on-year, people catching the virus now could well be going to hospital in two weeks’ time.”
  • On the situation in London as we head into next year: “It is a perfect storm in relation to the virus spreading fast, six out of ten Londoners having the new strain and there being a January where the NHS could be very, very busy.”
  • Asked whether schools should close: “They should be mass testing… We’ve got to make sure our children are back at school but those schools are Covid safe. Safe for our teachers, safe for our staff and safe for our children.”

Lisa Nandy criticised Boris Johnson for the last-minute U-turn on Christmas restrictions but said toughening the rules was “absolutely the right thing to do”. She reiterated Labour’s position that schools “should be the last thing to close and the first thing to open”.

  • On the Covid Christmas plans U-turn: “Every day this week, we’ve raised with the government the fact that the new strain of this virus surely means that Christmas plans have to be revised, and yet every day that concern has been dismissed.”
  • On Boris Johnson: “Over and over again, we’ve seen the same pattern. A Prime Minister who rejects the evidence, who ridicules and mocks people who raise concerns, who dithers and delays and then ends up having to change his mind.”
  • On whether the policy itself is right: “It’s absolutely the right thing to do, to bring in tougher restrictions around Christmas and I think most of the country could see for several weeks that this is where it was going.”
  • On rising Covid cases over recent weeks: “We didn’t know about the new strain of the virus a few weeks ago, but we did know that case rates were rising at an alarming rate in some parts of the country.
  • On the new variant: “Matt Hancock came to the House on Monday to report that there was this new strain of virus that he said at the time was particularly virulent. The government did know that this was an emerging problem.”
  • She added: “Yet two days later the Prime Minister went to the Commons, mocked and ridiculed concerns that were raised about it and said that those who were concerned about… were seeking to criminalise people and cancel Christmas.
  • On schools closing in Tier 4 areas: “Schools should be the last thing to close and the first thing to open… We shouldn’t be debating whether we should be closing schools. We should we debating how we safely keep them open.”
  • On enforcement of and compliance with the Covid restrictions: “Where we run into problems is not so much about enforcement… The problem is when people are confused about what the rules are.”
  • She added: “That’s why it is so serious that the Prime Minister on Wednesday was saying in the House of Commons that Christmas would absolutely go ahead as planned… and then just a few days later is saying something different.”
  • On Labour support for a potential Brexit deal: “We’d be minded to back it.” She added: “We want to see that deal first, we don’t trust that the Prime Minister will come back with a deal that’s in the national interest.”
  • On unity within Labour on its Brexit position: “The option is do we have a deal, or do we not have a deal?” She added: “We’ve got to get a good deal and Keir and I are completely of one mind about that.”

Matt Hancock told viewers this morning that the additional restrictions announced by the Prime Minister on Saturday may have to remain in place for “the next couple of months” while a vaccine is rolled out.

On the new variant of coronavirus, the Health Secretary said: “All of the different measures that we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the whole variant.”

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