Covid-19: Andy Burnham urges Boris Johnson to break Greater Manchester ‘impasse’

.css-14iz86j-BoldText{font-weight:bold;}Greater Manchester’s mayor has called on Boris Johnson for help in “breaking the impasse” over stricter Covid-19 curbs in the region.

Andy Burnham said in a letter to the PM and other party leaders that Parliament should hold an urgent debate to end the deadlock.

Leaders in Greater Manchester rejected a move to England’s tier three alert level without better financial support.

Mr Gove added Downing Street wanted the best for Greater Manchester and that he hoped “we can find a way through together”.

But he criticised what he described as the “incoherence” of politicians there and warned that if an agreement could not be reached the government would “look at” having to impose restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson .css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link{color:#3F3F42;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{color:#696969;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{font-weight:bolder;border-bottom:1px solid #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus{border-bottom-color:currentcolor;border-bottom-width:2px;color:#B80000;}@supports (text-underline-offset:0.25em){.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{border-bottom:none;-webkit-text-decoration:underline #BABABA;text-decoration:underline #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-underline-offset:0.25em;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus{-webkit-text-decoration-color:currentcolor;text-decoration-color:currentcolor;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:2px;text-decoration-thickness:2px;color:#B80000;}}has said he may “need to intervene” if local leaders do not accept a move to tier three curbs.

Mr Burnham has said he would be “ready to speak to the prime minister at any time” to discuss the situation and confirmed he is due to speak with Sir Edward Lister, a No 10 official, on Sunday.

In the letter, Mr Burnham said the prospect of tier three – very high – restrictions on hospitality and other areas “is not just a Greater Manchester issue”.

He wrote: “Establishing clear national entitlements of the kind we had during the first lockdown will create a sense of fairness which in turn would help build public support for, and compliance with, any new restrictions.”

“As leaders of the main political parties in Westminster, I urge you to work together to help resolve this current dispute and establish a fair financial framework for local lockdowns that the whole country will be able to support,” he added.

In the language of negotiation, it seems the government and mayor of Greater Manchester may have stepped back from the brink.

Both sides softened their tone in interviews this morning, there was talk of ending the war of words and finding a new way through.

The most telling intervention of the last 24 hours has not been from Andy Burnham or Michael Gove, but the senior Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady.

He represents a constituency in the region and says MPs, council leaders and mayor are “united” across party lines in resisting tier 3 restrictions.

So, while the argument plays out in public between the government and Mr Burnham, it may be won or lost in private between ministers and their own backbenchers whose support is crucial to the government’s approach.

Earlier, Mr Burnham told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show there had been “exaggeration” by the prime minister of rising case numbers in Greater Manchester.

Mr Johnson said on Friday cases in the region had doubled over the previous nine days. Mr Burnham said that while cases were “up slightly” they were “certainly not doubling every nine days”.

Sir Graham Brady, a senior backbench Conservative and MP for Altrincham and Sale West in Greater Manchester, described the region’s Labour and Tory MPs as “pretty united” and said positive tests were “flattening”.

Mr Burnham also described “side deals” with councils in regions moving into tier three – very high – as not “good enough for me”.

Liverpool City Region’s metro mayor Steve Rotherham announced his area will receive an additional £44m and a similar package worth £42m was given to local leaders in Lancashire.

“Let’s remember, the places they’re trying to close in tier three – pubs, bookies, gyms – these are places where people are on low wages. And what we’re saying is you cannot take away their place of work and not give them support,” Mr Burnham said.

He called on the government to re-introduce the 80% furlough scheme used previously in the pandemic to support the low paid affected by tier three closures. Currently, a less generous scheme to provide two-thirds of wages is on offer.

The Labour mayor added: “The truth is health, protecting health, is about more than controlling the virus.”

A letter from Tory MPs representing areas on the lowest tier of England’s Covid alert system called on Mr Burnham to accept a move to tier three – very high – rather than allow national restrictions through a so-called “circuit-breaker”.

“It does not make sense to shut down the whole country when the virus is spiking in particular locations,” it said.

But four Conservative MPs representing seats in Greater Manchester hit back, describing the letter as “deeply disappointing… unnecessary and ill-advised”, “neither wanted nor helpful” and a “No 10 approved communication”.

And Mr Burnham said: “I’m not sure a sort of ‘we’re alright, Jack’ letter from a group of southern Conservative MPs is going to cut much ice [in Greater Manchester].”

Meanwhile, Prof Jeremy Farrar, a scientific adviser to the government, said Christmas will be “tough” this year with traditional family celebrations unlikely.

“Christmas will be tough this year. I don’t think it’s going to be the usual celebration it is and all families coming together, I’m afraid,” he told Sky News.

“I think we have to be honest and realistic and say that we are in for three to six months of a very, very difficult period.”

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News – Covid-19: Andy Burnham urges Boris Johnson to break Greater Manchester ‘impasse’