“This has to be the last lockdown” – Starmer’s response to PM unlocking

Keir Starmer
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Below is the full text of Keir Starmer’s response to the Prime Minister’s statement in parliament on the roadmap out of lockdown.

Mr Speaker, this is the third time the Prime Minister has announced a plan to come out of a national lockdown. Each time, we’ve emerged without sufficient caution, each time without a clear plan, and without listening to the science. As a result, we’ve ended back at square one.

This time, there are no excuses. This has to be the last lockdown. Our scientists, our NHS, our armed forces and the collective effort of the British people have shown us the path to a better future. The Prime Minister now must now grasp it.

I’m glad the Prime Minister spoke today of caution, of this being irreversible, of assessing data and following the evidence. That has to be the way forward. Those are the right guiding principles. I have to say, it’s a welcome change to some of the language he’s used in the past, I urge the PM now to stick to it.

Mr Speaker, the key to this plan working is the vaccine roll-out. I have nothing but praise for everyone involved and I want to pay tribute to the extraordinary speed of this roll out.

As we release health measures, however gradually, there is every chance the infection rate goes back up. If we are to control that, it’s more important than ever that track, trace and isolate is working.

One of most concerning figures in a recent SAGE report is that only three in ten people are isolating who should be. It’s obvious that one of main drivers of this is insecurity at work, and that, as the Chair of Test and Trace said, people are “scared” to take a test because they can’t afford to isolate.

This not only harms our health response, it costs the economy too. It simply has to be fixed.

Labour has proposed that the £500 isolation payment – which is currently only available to one in eight workers – be made available to everyone who needs it and does not have occupational sick pay.

Will the Prime Minister consider that? Because if we don’t shift the three in ten figure, there will be huge hole in defences.

Next, schools. We all agree that the priority must be for all children to be back in school as quickly as possible – and to stay in school. We want that to happen on March 8th – and Labour will do whatever we can to make that happen.

First, can the Prime Minister confirm that the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Officer support the full reopening of schools on March 8th?

Second, what is the Prime Minister doing to overcome the huge logistical challenges?

As he knows, we have repeatedly called for:

  • Nightingale classrooms and better ventilation in schools
  • For mass testing to be in place
  • And for all teaching staff to be vaccinated – in order to prevent further disruption

The Prime Minister’s statement touched on mass testing – which we welcome – but nothing on classrooms and capacity – this is a huge problem.

Will the Prime Minister consider those measure and update us on how this can be overcome in a little over two weeks?

On vaccination of teaching staff, in my own constituency, we have the fantastic Crick Institute – which is doing amazing work and has been vaccinated hundreds of people a day.

They’ve been very clear to me, and publicly, that they could be doing more and that over one weekend they could have vaccinated all teachers in Camden, if they’d been allowed to do so – and without bumping anyone else from the priority list.

Will the Prime Minister now reconsider this – and see what more can be done to help speed up vaccination of key workers, and to help keep our schools open?

Third, economic support. The Prime Minister announced a roadmap today, but it won’t have escaped businesses – many of whom are just clinging on – that they will not be able to open until mid-April at the earliest, and many until mid-June.

I am not questioning the health basis for that decision, but I am reiterating what we have always said – that health restrictions must be accompanied by proper economic support.

So it makes no sense to announce today that businesses will be closed for many more weeks, if not months, without announcing new economic support.

The Prime Minister will say the Budget is next week, but there’s nothing stopping him saying today that business rates relief will be extended, that furlough will be extended, or the VAT cut for hospitality and leisure.

Businesses are crying out for the certainty – the Prime Minister should give them it today.

The Prime Minister should also announce proper support for the three million self-employed who have been ignored for the last year.

This morning on LBC I was asked again by a self-employed businesswoman who was at her wits end at the lack of government support. This roadmap means she may not be able to get up and running again until mid-June, so surely the Prime Minister now needs to at and to close these gaps?

Mr Speaker, we support the twin principles the Prime Minister has set out today: that this must both be cautious and irreversible, but I know the Prime Minister will come under pressure from those on his own benches to go faster and to throw caution to the wind.

Last week around 60 of his own MPs called for the end of all restrictions by the end of April. I’m sure there will be similar calls today.

He knows what I think of that – I think it’s reckless and irresponsible. I hope the Prime Minister takes the opportunity today to face this down.

Because if this roadmap is to work, he needs to listen to the Chief Scientific Officer and the Chief Medical Officer, not the Hon Members for Wycombe or Forest of Dean.

If the Prime Minister does, he will have our support. And a secure majority in this House. If he does not, we will waste all the sacrifices of the last 12 months.

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