Keir Starmer has criticised Boris Johnson for what he described as an “obsession with party management” amid growing concerns over the spread of Covid and the prospect of further public health restrictions being introduced over Christmas.
“The scientists and the public are very concerned by the growing numbers and we’ve got a government that’s hinting at further restrictions but it’s more concerned and tied up with party management at the moment than it is with public health,” the Labour leader told Sky News this morning.
“What we want, what the public want, is a Prime Minister with a plan and with a grip. And the question on my lips, and I think the public’s lips, this morning is where is the Prime Minister?”
The Commons passed increased Covid restrictions last week, including measures such as extending mask wearing requirements, but the strengthened rules only passed with the support of the opposition as more than 100 Tories rebelled.
Starmer added: “We’ve made it clear that we stand ready to support further measures if necessary. I made that clear to the Prime Minister last week, I make it clear again today, but it’s for the Prime Minister to come up with a plan with support for schools, for businesses etc. So the ball’s in his court. But where is he?”
Asked what measures his party would support, the Labour leader told viewers that he would “look at what the government puts forward” and said “we will support it if it’s the right plan in the public interest”.
He accused the government of being too slow “throughout the pandemic” and argued that Johnson has now left a “vacuum of leadership” with the focus on “infighting” within the Tory Party rather than on public health.
Asked what he would be doing in government: “I would be getting my cabinet together, I would be having a COBRA meeting – which I would attend – with all four nations to come up with a strong plan including the necessary support.”
Johnson was criticised after he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak did not attend a COBRA meeting on Sunday, the same day Health Secretary Sajid Javid refused to rule out a Christmas lockdown after a “sobering analysis” from scientific advisers.
The Prime Minister has come under increased pressure over recent weeks as allegations of Covid rule breaking in Downing Street emerged. The Guardian released a photograph on Sunday, from May 2020, of Johnson attending a social event.
Commenting on the photo this morning, the Labour leader said: “To suggest that that is a work meeting is a bit of a stretch by anybody’s analysis, so I think there are very serious questions to be answered.”
Asked whether he had any meetings like that, he said: “I look forward to the day when I’m meeting in the back garden of Downing Street but no, the Labour Party and the vast majority of the public were complying with the rules.”