Claims he wants Christmas lockdown a “distraction” tactic, Drakeford says

Elliot Chappell

Mark Drakeford has rejected leaked reports that he called for a complete lockdown to be implemented between Christmas and New Year during a phone call with Michael Gove and representatives of the devolved nations.

Addressing a Covid press conference today, following the intergovernmental call, the First Minister said the purpose behind the claim was “to cause a distraction from the many, many difficulties the UK government has experienced this week”.

“Do I urge the UK government to plan ahead? Do I urge the UK government to take the actions that are necessary in order to meet the challenge of coronavirus? I’ve done that time after time and am very happy to repeat it,” Drakeford added.

Right-wing blog Guido Fawkes reported on Thursday that Drakeford privately demanded in the discussion with the First Ministers and the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Secretaries of State in response to the spread of the Omicron variant.

Drakeford’s comments followed accusations from MPs, including Conservatives, that Boris Johnson announced the government’s ‘plan B’ strategy to distract from reports that rule-breaking parties were held in Downing Street in December last year.

Johnson confirmed in the latest coronavirus press conference on Tuesday that England will revert to ‘plan B’ restrictions due to the “remorseless logic of exponential growth” as applied to the spread of the new strain.

Speaking while on a trip to Northumberland today, Keir Starmer warned Tory backbenchers and members of the government that they risk “degrading” themselves by sticking by the Prime Minister following the latest accusations.

The Labour leader called on Conservative MPs and ministers to “have the courage now to challenge” Boris Johnson following several months in which the Prime Minister has been dogged by allegations of dishonesty.

Claims emerged last week that between 40 and 50 people attended events where they were crammed together “cheek by jowl” in Downing Street, in what one source described as a “Covid nightmare”, while London was under restrictions.

Johnson faced renewed allegations of dishonesty after footage emerged of senior Downing Street staffers joking about the party, after denying rules were broken, in which his then spokesperson Allegra Stratton joked that it “was not socially distanced”.

Following the leak of footage to ITV News of a mock press conference earlier this week, Stratton resigned from her role as COP26 adviser offering her “profound apologies” for her remarks in the leaked video. The spokesperson was recorded joking that the party “was not socially distanced”.

Wes Streeting confirmed this morning that Labour MPs will back the government in an upcoming vote on the introduction of tighter public health restrictions detailed under the government’s ‘plan B’ for combatting Covid this winter.

The Shadow Health Secretary’s comments followed reports that dozens of Tories are planning on abstaining or rebelling on the vote, prompting fears from ministers that they may have to rely on Labour to get the measures passed.

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