Sunday shows: Treat business Covid debt like student debt, says Labour

Sophy Ridge on Sunday

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson discussed Labour’s fresh call today for Covid business debt to be treated like student debt. She demanded that the Chancellor not wait until the Budget to take action to support businesses.

  • Asked whether all school years in England should open on March 8th, or whether there should be a phased return: “The government does need to consider the advice that they receive and it may be necessary to stagger that.”
  • On Labour’s proposal for business Covid debt to be treated like student debt: “We don’t believe that businesses should be paying back money that they’ve needed to borrow until they’re in a much stronger position.”
  • She added: “850,000 businesses are at risk, and that puts 2.5 million jobs on the line. We need to see urgent action from the government now to deal with that. They can’t wait until the Budget.”
  • Asked whether the debt could be written off like student debt: “Well, it’s more likely debt that some of that debt will be written off if we don’t take action now because businesses… are just drowning under this debt.”
  • Pressed further: “Unless we take action, debt will be written off. That’s for sure. So, putting in place a plan that allows businesses to deal with this on a far more manageable way would be a responsible way to be approaching this.”
  • Asked whether there are any tax increases the Chancellor could propose in the Budget that Labour would support: “If we pressed ahead with tax rises now, that would pull money out of our economy.”
  • She added: “Now absolutely isn’t the time to pressing ahead with tax rises. That isn’t an approach that we would support.”
  • On the Tories leading Labour in the polls: “Of course, after such a terrible defeat [the 2019 general election], it will take time to regain the trust of the British people once more. We’ve always been clear about that.”
  • Asked whether Labour is “just a bit boring” and needs to be calling for more policy: “We’re years out from an election, so of course we’ll set out very detailed policy that rises to the challenge that Britain faces at that point.”
  • On Starmer’s leadership: “The first priority as a party had to be earning the right to be heard by the British people once more. We’ve done that. I think Keir Starmer has demonstrated that he is the next Prime Minister.”
  • On the party’s prospects: “There is genuinely real enthusiasm from the people I speak to about the progress Labour has made. Of course, there is still much more to do. We always knew it would be a tough road ahead.”

First minister Mark Drakeford criticised the UK government over its approach to quarantine policy, arguing that “we ought to build that wall higher”, and said he disagreed with Keir Starmer on his call to vaccinate teachers first.

  • On Wales having met the target to offer a vaccine to the top four priority groups: “All the credit is due to those frontline workers in our health service, their partners in the armed forces, all local authorities, the volunteers.”
  • On quarantine hotels: “There won’t be any in Wales at this point because we don’t have any flights coming into Wales from those red countries and we don’t have any flights coming in from abroad at all, and we won’t do until March.”
  • On his preferred approach to arrivals coming to the UK: “I would have said nobody can come in other than the list of countries where we are absolutely sure that it is safe for people to come without the quarantine arrangements.”
  • He added: “We ought to build that wall higher, protect us all from the risk that new variants pose and only allow a lower level of protection from those relatively few countries where we can be very sure.”
  • On the approach taken by the UK government: “They do the least that they can get away with rather than the most that is needed.”
  • On schools opening from February 22nd in Wales, before England: “We went into a national lockdown here in Wales before Christmas and the impact of that is now being felt… That is what has created a small amount of headroom for us.”
  • He said his government will continue to “monitor” the situation. On possibly reversing the measure: “If things were to go against us, if a new variant were to appear, for example, then we could go back to the position we’re in today.”
  • On the call from Keir Starmer to vaccinate teachers: “We don’t take the same view on that matter. We follow the advice of the JCVI [joint committee on vaccination and immunisation].”
  • On the JCVI: “We will follow the advice from the JCVI. At the moment it isn’t to move teachers to the front of the queue. If and when that changes, then our approach will change alongside it.”
  • Put to him that Starmer is calling for things that are “inevitable”, and asked whether he is concerned about Starmer’s leadership: “No, I think Keir Starmer has done an excellent job in holding this government to account.”
  • On his decision to call for teachers to be vaccinated: “I completely understand why there is a debate around whether teachers should be moved up the queue for vaccinations… I don’t think it was wrong for Starmer to raise the issue.”

Dominic Raab also appeared on the show this morning. He told viewers that the government does not know how many cases of the South African variant there are currently in the UK and said he is “not sure it’s ascertainable”.

Responding to comments from a group of Conservative backbench MPs that there can be “no justification” for restrictions once all over 50s have been offered a vaccine, he argued: “I don’t think you can set an arbitrary target.”

On reopening schools, and whether all children will return at once or with a phased return of year groups, Raab said the government needs to “wait to evaluate the data” and added that the Prime Minister will set out the details in a week.

The Andrew Marr Show

Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary, argued for better sick pay, higher grade masks, investment in ventilation, and said the current lockdown “needs to be the final lockdown”. He described March 8th for full school reopening as a “reasonable aspiration” but emphasised the need for mitigation measures.

  • On the approach to lifting restrictions: “I don’t think anybody is expecting lockdown to end in one day, in one snap, but we have to be driven by the data not just dates. We have to really slam that R number right down.”
  • He added: “We’re still not paying people decent sick pay to isolate themselves. We should be looking at higher grade masks on public transport and in shops… We should be investing in ventilation and air filtration systems for public buildings. The national contact tracing system should be handed to NHS England and the local contact tracing should be handed to local public health directors.”
  • On unlocking: “We’re five weeks into this lockdown, and this lockdown needs to be the final lockdown.”
  • He added: “Part of the problem we’ve got is we know the virus is a moving target now… We don’t want to grow a new mutation that can evade the vaccine response and bring us back to square one.”
  • On the impact of Covid on disabled people: “Some of this does come back to what support and protections have been put in place in adult social care. The social care debate frustratingly gets focused on just the elderly – that’s an important part of it, but an increasing number of adults with disabilities are in receipt of social care and they haven’t been protected in the way they should have been in this crisis.”
  • On whether March 8th is the right date for fully reopening schools: “I think we have to get our children back in school, but we need to put in place measures to keep schools open.” He described March 8th as a “reasonable aspiration”, but added that “you need to put in place measures to mitigate against the virus taking off again”.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, gave the government view on unlocking, schools and the impact of Brexit.

  • On the March 8th date for fully reopening schools: “Yes, that’s what we’re aiming for and that’s what we’re committed to.”
  • He confirmed that Boris Johnson will set out the roadmap for unlocking on February 22nd.
  • On whether the UK would put vaccine passports on the G7 agenda as suggested by Tony Blair, Raab said the idea could be discussed but it was “not yet in a place where we can put forward a workable proposition that countries around the world can rely on”.
  • Asked whether he would have voted to convict Donald Trump, Raab said he would not be “dragged into” the issue.

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