Keir Starmer has decided to break with the government in a vote on Covid restrictions for the first time as Boris Johnson fights off a backbench rebellion with fund to give the hardest hit pub owners cash.
Labour will abstain in Tuesday’s Commons vote on the tiers system, which is due to replace lockdown rules from Wednesday and put 99% of the country into tiers 2 and 3.
Mr Starmer will tell his MPs he does not believe Labour should directly oppose the measures because of the need to keep control of the virus
He said: “ Coronavirus remains a serious threat to the public’s health and that’s why Labour accept the need for continued restrictions. We will always act in the national interest, so we will not vote against these restrictions in Parliament tomorrow.
“However, I remain deeply concerned that Boris Johnson’s Government has failed to use this latest lockdown to put a credible health and economic plan in place.
“We still don’t have a functioning testing system, public health messaging is confused, and businesses across the country are crying out for more effective economic support to get them through the winter months. It is short-term Government incompetence that is causing long-term damage to the British economy.
“It is imperative that the Government gets control of the virus so that our NHS can be protected and our economy recovers faster.”
It came after Mr Starmer met England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, on Monday night.
The Government has accused Sir Keir Starmer of “playing politics” in the midst of the pandemic.
“This pandemic is one of the biggest challenges facing the country in decades and Labour have decided to abstain on it,” a No 10 spokesman said.
“While Keir Starmer claims he offers new leadership, it’s clear to all that he actually offers no leadership at all.
“Keir Starmer is playing politics in the middle of a global pandemic instead of working with the Government to find a way through this difficult time for the British people.”
Mr Johnson is trying to quell a backbench rebellion – but attempts to do so by publishing an analysis document on the justifications for the tiered lockdown didn’t impress furious Tories on Monday.
Sir Graham Brady, the influential chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said he was almost certain to vote against the Government unless the regulations were amended.
“I am pretty certain to vote against the Government. My concerns about the impact on civil liberties and fundamental human rights are there regardless,” he told an online event organised by the free market Institute of Economic Affairs.
“The fact is that my own constituency (Altrincham and Sale West) has been put inside the wrong tier without good justification – unless that were to change, it makes it inevitable that I would vote against.”
Mel Stride, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee, said the Government’s impact assessment on the effect of the new restrictions contained little new information.
“With little over 24 hours until MPs vote on the new tiered system, this rehashed document offers very little further in economic terms other than that which the OBR published last week,” he said in a statement.
“It’s frustrating that there is little here that sets out how the different tiers might impact on the specific sectors and regions across the country.
“Those looking for additional economic analysis of the new tiered system will struggle to find it in this document.”