Sunday shows: Nursery schools “probably should be closed”, says Starmer

The Andrew Marr Show

Keir Starmer said the current Covid rules “may not be tough enough”, concluded that nursery schools “probably should be closed”, confirmed that he would not bring back EU freedom of movement despite his leadership campaign pledge, did not back Labour’s 2019 policy on free broadband for all and reiterated that Universal Credit should be scrapped.

  • On whether the rules are tough enough: “They are tough and they’re necessary. They may not be tough enough, but the most important thing is for people to get that message about stay at home… I would like to see the PM out there every day with a press conference, making sure that message is getting through.”
  • On the Derbyshire example of two women being fined despite not breaking the law: “I don’t think that was a particularly good example… The police have done by and large a really good job in very difficult circumstances.”
  • On whether nursery schools should close: “I think they probably should be closed. I want to talk to the scientists about that.”
  • On school closures: “I didn’t want to close schools, I’m not going to shy away from that. I did say on Sunday that I thought it was inevitable.” He stressed the disproportionate impact on pupils.
  • On whether he should apologise to unions for his position on school closures: “To the trade unions, to teachers, to staff who worked hard over Christmas to try and get schools back up and running, I think we all owe them an apology and we all owe them recognition of what they have done.”
  • On whether teachers should be prioritised for testing: “The first four categories are right.” He said there was “a case” for looking at categories after that, and “teachers may well be one of those categories”.
  • On whether the reopening of schools is contingent on teachers being vaccinated: “No, I don’t know that it necessarily is, although if that can happen that would be a good thing.”
  • On whether there is any part of the Brexit deal he would reopen: “There are bits already that need to be improved on.” He gave examples of creative industries and service sector. “But I don’t think that there’s scope for major renegotiation.”
  • On bringing back freedom of movement: “I don’t think there’s an argument for reopening those aspects of the treaty… The last thing anybody wants including the EU is to start again from scratch with this treaty.”
  • On Brexit: “I don’t think there’s a case for rejoining the EU… Pretending to the British public that somehow, after four years of negotiation, the treaty that has just been secured is up for grabs – that is not realistic, that is not going to happen.”
  • On the government’s immigration system: “I don’t support, we didn’t support, the government on that. We didn’t vote for their immigration legislation.”
  • Should everybody have free broadband? “I actually think we should target those who most need it in the immediate weeks.” And in the long run? “In the long run, we’ll have to see what the situation is in 2024.” (He committed to “rolling out full-fibre broadband for all through a publicly owned broadband infrastructure provider” during the leadership election.)
  • Asked what level of national debt would be ‘dangerous’: “We’re going to have to reassess debt, we’re at huge debt, huge borrowing. I’m not at this stage going to set out what the position is going to be in 2024.” He listed Labour’s priorities as “secure our economy, protect the NHS and rebuild our country”.
  • On scrapping Universal Credit: “Yes, Universal Credit needs to be scrapped and a new scheme put in place.”
  • On Scotland: “I don’t think there should be another referendum… But I do accept that the status quo isn’t working.”
  • On Boris Johnson saying it should be another 40 years before another Scottish independence referendum is held: “I heard the Prime Minister say that and I don’t agree with him on that.”
  • On whether he has spoken to Joe Biden: “No.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock committed to offering Covid vaccinations to every adult by the autumn.

  • On compliance with Covid rules: “Every time you flex the rules, that could be fatal.”
  • On whether the government will set further restrictions: “I don’t want to speculate. The most important message is not whether the government will further strengthen the rules. The most important thing is if people stay at home and follow the rules we’ve got.”
  • On whether everybody will be vaccinated by the autumn: “Yes.” He added: “Every adult will be offered a vaccine by the autumn, absolutely.”
  • On some schools being at 50% capacity: “You’ve got to keep schools open for the children of key workers.” Added that people should keep children at home if they can, however.

Sophy Ridge on Sunday

Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary Steve Reed urged transparency from government on the roll-out of the vaccine and described the planned increase in council tax as “absurd”.

  • On two women recently fined for breaching Covid restrictions: “The real problem here is the lack of clarity over the guidance that we’ve had from the government. People are simply confused about what they should or shouldn’t do.”
  • He added: “The government’s constant chopping and changing – one rule for them, another for everybody else – simply confuses everybody.”
  • On the messaging: “Given the crisis we’re seeing in our hospitals up and down the country, we need the government to really focus on getting this message crystal clear.”
  • Challenged on Labour changing its position on schools when the U-turn had become ‘inevitable’: “The thing to focus on now is moving forward… The way out of this crisis now is getting the vaccinations out across the country at pace.”
  • On the vaccination programme: “We’re pushing the government to hit the target of two million vaccinations a week. We have to absolutely move heaven and earth to get those vaccinations out.”
  • On transparency in the roll-out: “It would help if the government would give a daily briefing where they told us how much supply of the vaccine is available, how much has been put into people’s arms, and in every bit of the country.”
  • On whether key workers who can should keep their children at home should: “If parents, even key workers, can keep their children at home rather than sending them to school, then that is what they need to do.”
  • On local authority finance in the pandemic: “Councils incurred a massive funding gap from lost revenues and the additional costs of supporting communities that the government then failed to repay.”
  • On Labour’s call to scrap a planned rise in council tax: “The government’s way to deal with that should not be to impose a 5% council tax rise on hardworking people the day after the furlough scheme ends.”
  • On council tax: “One of the problems with using council tax as the way you raise the revenue is that it doesn’t hit people equally – it doesn’t bare any relation to, or very much relationship to the level of earnings.”
  • On the planned increase: “We need to be giving people wherever they are the support that they need. So this is just an absurd thing for the government to propose doing and I hope they’ll withdraw it.”

Matt Hancock this morning described the predicament facing the health service across the country as a “very, very serious situation” and urged people to follow the public health rules and stay at home.

“The data shows that more people are following the rules than during the November lockdown,” the Health Secretary told viewers today, but warned that “at the moment” the number of Covid cases is still going up.

He pushed back on giving a “specific date” for the lifting of the current restrictions. He told those watching that “we’ve always said in the spring and we’ll hold to that” and that the government will “watch the data”.

Asked whether there could be Covid restrictions in place next winter, Hancock told viewers this morning: “I really hope not.” He added that it is “highly likely” there will be a dual vaccination programme for coronavirus and flu.

He insisted that “schools are safe for children” despite being “vectors of transmission” and argued that there was “no evidence” of more teachers catching coronavirus than workers in any other profession.

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