Boris Johnson was facing an extraordinary Northern revolt last night after ordering Greater Manchester into the toughest level of lockdown restrictions.
After 11 days of talks, the Prime Minister broke off negotiations with local leaders and confirmed that the region would be classed as a ‘very high risk’ Covid area and go into Tier Three restrictions.
From midnight tomorrow, pubs, betting shops, casinos, bingo halls and soft play areas in the region will be ordered to close. Greater Manchester’s population of 2.8 million will also be told not to travel outside the region.
The PM told a Downing Street press conference that he ‘had to act today… in order to protect health and save lives’. Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said Covid cases in the region were ‘out of control’, and were rising fast among the over-60s.
But the decision provoked fury from Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, Tory MPs in the region, and politicians across the North, where a string of other areas are on the brink of being plunged into Tier Three, the toughest level.
Boris Johnson has confirmed the Greater Manchester region will be plunged into Tier Three restrictions after talks with local leaders broke down. The Prime Minister told a press conference (pictured) he ‘had to act today…in order to protect health and save lives’
One local Tory MP described the move as ‘insanity’, while another warned it would be ‘damaging to our community’. Last night, it threatened to completely fracture the already-fraying consensus over the acceptance of lockdown measures amid growing discontent over the Government’s Covid strategy.
It also resulted in a furious blame game, with Whitehall sources accusing Mr Burnham of putting his ‘pride’ ahead of the interests of people in the region. One source claimed the former Labour cabinet minister rejected the offer because he insisted on getting more money than Merseyside and Lancashire, which have already agreed to enter Tier Three.
After the talks collapsed yesterday, Mr Burnham warned that the country’s resolve to fight the pandemic would be fractured if restrictions were imposed on areas without enough financial support.
He said it was not just about the North West and that ‘all parts of the country might find themselves in Tier Three lockdown’. Mr Burnham added: ‘I don’t believe that we can proceed as a country on this basis through the pandemic by grinding communities down, through punishing financial negotiations.’
The PM confirmed that ministers are in talks about the move with leaders in South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and the North East.
Damian Waters, north-west director at the employers’ organisation the CBI, also warned that the row risked undermining the fight against the pandemic.
The news has sparked fury among northern leaders including Tory MPs and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, pictured left with City Council leader Sir Richard Leese
‘National unity is essential to maintaining the confidence needed to help our economy, and compliance to reduce rising infection rates,’ he said. ‘So it’s deeply disappointing to witness divisions between local and central government, which have hindered Greater Manchester businesses’ ability to plan for the challenges ahead.’
Sir Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West and chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 committee, expressed his anger to Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the Commons.
He said: ‘Lockdowns themselves cost lives as well as livelihoods. They have a terrible toll on the mental health particularly of the young. Does he accept that it is better to do these things, if they must be done, by consent?’
Sir Graham said he would vote against the imposition of Tier Three on the region.
‘Even Sage [the government advisory body] says the evidence is weak that these measures will have any significant impact,’ he added. ‘So you are weighing the loss of jobs and closure of businesses against something that is probably not going to be effective.’
Mr Johnson said last night that he had worked for ten days to get a deal with Mr Burnham and could wait no longer given the health emergency in the region.
‘Unfortunately, agreement wasn’t been reached. And I do regret this,’ he said. ‘We would have a better chance of defeating the virus if we work together.’ Greater Manchester will get £22million to help fund local contact tracing. But talks broke down over the level of support for businesses hit by the restrictions.
In a phone call with the PM, Mr Burnham turned down an offer of £60million to support local businesses, saying £65million was the ‘bare minimum’ needed.
The PM refused to raise the offer, saying it would be unfair on people in Lancashire and Merseyside who have already accepted more modest deals. One Whitehall source said: ‘Andy Burnham’s pride got in the way of a deal.’
The new restrictions will come into effect for Greater Manchester from midnight on Friday
The PM said the offer made to Mr Burnham was ‘generous and extensive’. Mr Burnham appeared to learn the city was getting £22million at a press conference yesterday, describing the settlement as ‘brutal’. Mr Johnson caused confusion last night when he appeared unable to confirm that the £60million package was still on offer, sparking Labour claims he was ‘punishing’ the region.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted it was still ‘on the table’ and urged local leaders to ‘pick up the phone’.
On Teesside, local leaders reacted angrily to suggestions the area could be placed into Tier Three.
Hartlepool Council leader Shane Moore said he would tell the Government to ‘s** off’ if they tried to impose Tier Three restrictions on the town.
They fell out over just £5 million in handouts
By Daniel Martin, Policy Editor for the Daily Mail
A furious blame game erupted last night after talks between ministers and leaders in Manchester fell apart – over the sum of £5million.
In an angry press conference, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham accused Boris Johnson of ‘grinding’ northern communities down.
It came after the PM’s failure to stump up more money to support the livelihoods of people hit by new coronavirus restrictions.
The region – where 2.8 million live – will be placed into the ‘very high’ Tier Three alert level on Friday.
Under the restrictions, which are already in place in the Liverpool region, pubs and bars will be closed, unless they are serving substantial meals, for a 28-day period along with betting shops, casinos, bingo halls, gaming centres and soft play areas.
Andy Burnham revealed the Government had offered £60 million in assistance to businesses forced to close but he rejected this and had wanted £65 million
The measures could lead to the closure of an estimated 1,800 pubs and 140 wine bars as well as 277 betting shops and 12 casinos.
Mr Burnham revealed that the Government had offered £60million in assistance to businesses forced to close. But he rejected this because Greater Manchester councils had been holding out for at least £65million – down from their original demand of £90million.
In his press conference, the mayor accused Mr Johnson of ‘walking away’ rather than finding the extra £5million. But one Whitehall source said: ‘Andy Burnham’s pride got in the way of a deal.’
Another claimed Mr Burnham had told the PM it was ‘important to him that he got more than Lancashire and Merseyside’, which are already in Tier Three.
The source said officials had agreed a business support package of £55million. But when the PM rang Mr Burnham to agree it, the mayor demanded £65million.
Mr Johnson offered him £60million but said it would be ‘unfair’ to go further than deals offered to other North West regions. Mr Burnham claimed the higher figure was the ‘bare minimum to prevent a winter of real hardship’.
He said yesterday: ‘At no point today were we offered enough to protect the poorest people in our communities through the punishing reality of the winter to come.’
He added: ‘I don’t believe that we can proceed as a country on this basis through the pandemic by grinding communities down through punishing financial negotiations.’
Greater Manchester will get £22million to help fund local contact tracing. Labour council leaders were not informed about the timing of the new restrictions.
Mr Burnham only learned during his press conference when it was reported on social media.
It came amid mounting anger from businesses and Tory MPs in the Manchester area. Chris Green, MP for Bolton West, said: ‘Bolton has been through a far tougher lockdown than Tier Three and it didn’t work.
‘The Government believes that three weeks of closing pubs and soft play centres will make a dramatic difference. It hasn’t and it won’t.’