Keir Starmer has come out in favour of shutting schools as part of the fresh England lockdown in a broadcast interview this afternoon, ahead of Boris Johnson announcing new measures to tackle Covid at 8pm.
In an interview with Sky News, the Labour leader reversed his party’s previous position of opposing any delay in schools fully reopening. When calling for a lockdown on Sunday, he did not include schools in the proposal.
Commenting on the situation today, he said: “It is inevitable that schools will have to close and therefore they need to be part of the national restrictions package that needs to come into place as soon as possible.”
Asked which schools and where, he replied: “All schools are going to have to [close], inevitably. This is tragic.” On whether they should close from tomorrow, he said: “Closing schools without a national plan isn’t going to work.”
Starmer added that national restrictions are needed this week, and these should include schools. Asked again how soon the closures should take place, he replied: “As soon as possible, we need the national plan in place.”
He demanded a plan for working parents, children learning at home and “to get schools reopened again as soon as possible”, amid calls for employers to furlough working parents and concerns over the digital divide among pupils.
On vaccines, Starmer said: “Let’s have a vaccine programme that gets us up to two million a week within the next week or two and four million a week in the early part of February. That’s what we need more than anything.”
Labour had until now refused to back calls for school closures despite Unite, UNISON and GMB, Labour’s three biggest affiliated unions, and the biggest education unions supporting the postponement of reopening schools.
Kate Green, the Shadow Education Secretary, this morning said the Labour-proposed lockdown would “try to get this virus under control and to keep children in class” as “schools should be the very last place to close”.
Shadow schools minister Wes Streeting has now tweeted: “We have been clear that closing schools should only be a last resort… The failure of our government to get ahead of the virus means we have reached that last resort.”