Burnham blames Sunak in Manchester lockdown row as he calls for Labour party support

The Canary

Mayor Andy Burnham has blamed chancellor Rishi Sunak for being “the problem” in the row over a lockdown for Greater Manchester. It comes alongside confusion over talks with Downing Street.

The feud between No 10 and the Labour mayor continued on 17 October. Downing Street said fresh talks had been set up for the weekend, only for Burnham’s office to deny this. Talks between him and Downing Street are reportedly now set to resume later on Sunday 18 October.

Blame Sunak

Burnham has called for a return to the generosity of the original furlough scheme that saw the Treasury pay 80% of workers’ wages. But Sunak has only offered a 66% subsidy for those whose firms are shut by Tier 3 measures.

The Greater Manchester mayor told the New Statesman on 16 October:

I think the problem now is, to a large degree, the Chancellor. I think he’s made wrong judgements throughout this.

He criticised the Eat Out to Help Out meal subsidy scheme as a “poor judgment” and added:

The cost of that should have been paying for the furlough now.

He insisted that the failure ultimately lies with Boris Johnson, arguing that the prime minister:

shouldn’t be allowing the Treasury to run the policy.

Gove

Burnham and Conservative politicians in Greater Manchester oppose Tier 3 measures. And the mayor is calling for greater financial support for workers and businesses.

The Labour mayor accused Johnson of having exaggerated the severity of the situation in the region. He has called for parliament to intervene to give Tier 3 areas sufficient financial support.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, on Sunday 18 October, accused Burnham of having engaged in political “posturing”. Gove called for Burnham to accept the measures “to save people’s lives”.

Gove told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday:

I want to reach an agreement with the political leadership in Greater Manchester.

I want them to put aside for a moment some of the political positioning that they’ve indulged in and I want them to work with us in order to ensure that we save lives and protect the NHS.

Instead of press conferences and posturing what we need is action to save people’s lives.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
(PA Graphics)

“Serious situation”

Burnham accused Johnson of exaggerating the severity of the coronavirus situation in the region during a Downing Street press conference on 16 October. The mayor told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show:

It’s a serious situation but I don’t think it was the situation that was described by the Prime Minister on Friday evening.

I think it was an exaggeration of the position that we’re in.

Of course it’s a matter of concern, and we watch the figures very closely indeed, but the figures have been falling in Manchester itself in the last few days, across Greater Manchester up slightly but certainly not doubling every nine days.

Despite the clash, Burnham said he would speak to Johnson’s chief strategic adviser Edward Lister later on 18 October. Downing Street confirmed this after the two sides struggled to arrange talks the day before.

Shoppers in Manchester on Saturday afternoon
Shoppers in Manchester on Saturday afternoon (Danny Lawson/PA)

Opposition

Burnham reiterated his call for a return to the original furlough scheme that covered 80% of workers’ wages if they couldn’t do their jobs. And he told MPs it was “everywhere’s concern”. All areas could end up in Tier 3 measures, with the lower support package of a 66% subsidy for those whose firms are forced to shut.

Burnham told Marr:

That’s why I’ll be writing to the Labour Party leaders in Westminster to ask them to intervene, for Parliament to intervene, here.

What we need here is a fair financial framework if the Government are going to insist on Tier 3 – at the moment, they’re doing side deals with individual councils, that isn’t good enough for me.

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