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Covid-19: Row over rules ‘not just about Greater Manchester’

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Publishedduration9 minutes agomedia captionAndy Burnham: “This is not just Greater Manchester’s fight”Greater Manchester’s mayor has called for wider support over the region’s stance against stricter Covid-19 curbs, saying: “This is not just Greater Manchester’s fight.”Andy Burnham said it was “everyone’s concern because everywhere could end up in tier three” over winter.Leaders in the region have…


media captionAndy Burnham: “This is not just Greater Manchester’s fight”

Greater Manchester’s mayor has called for wider support over the region’s stance against stricter Covid-19 curbs, saying: “This is not just Greater Manchester’s fight.”

Andy Burnham said it was “everyone’s concern because everywhere could end up in tier three” over winter.

Leaders in the region have rejected a move to the highest alert level without more generous financial support.

Government minister Michael Gove said: “We hope to agree a new approach”.

He added the government 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 has said he may “need to intervene” if local leaders do not accept a move to tier three curbs.

Mr Burnham 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.

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” on resisting tier three.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme: “We are now seeing some evidence of flattening of the growth of the number of positive tests, that I think is possibly connected to the big outbreak in the student population, which happened very quickly and may be tailing off now”.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Rachel Reeves reiterated the party’s call for a so-called “circuit-breaker” – a short, limited lockdown – together with “an economic package of support”, instead of regional restrictions.


By Jonathan Blake, political correspondent

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.

But it’s important to remember this is not just a two-way row.

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.

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”.

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].”

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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus.