Barnier mocks PM on deadlines, Starmer attacks govt on Covid, Tory MPs rebel on curfew

#Brexit special section Downing Street Health and Education Westminster

Boris Johnson is under increasing fire from all angles with the issues of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic combining with yet more rebels on his backbenches.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator in Brexit talks with the UK, mocked Johnson during a meeting with EU ministers for issuing a “third unilateral deadline”

The summit of EU leaders on Thursday is the prime minister’s declared deadline for agreement to be reached, which sources say Barnier described as ”very difficult but still possible”.

“It is the third unilateral deadline that Johnson has imposed without agreement,” the chief negotiator reportedly said. “We still have time.”

Germany’s warnings about ‘no-deal’

Angela Merkel has issued a warning to the EU to prepare for a “no-deal” outcome while appearing to urge compromise to try and avoid it.

“We also have to take into account the reality; an agreement has to be in the interests of both parties, in British interests as well as the interests of the 27 member European Union,” Germany’s chancellor said.

Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth echoed Merkel’s concern in a stronger warning. “Let me be very clear – and this is also a message to our British friends – no-one should play down the risks of a no-deal,” said Roth.

“This would be very bad news for everyone, for the EU and even more so for the United Kingdom.

“In the midst of the most serious economic downturn in decades, it would inflict our citizens yet another serious economic setback.”

Starmer demands circuit breaker

Trade deal talks at such a critical juncture would normally take the full focus of the prime minister – however, Johnson has many other serious issues to simultaneously tend to, not least the Covid crisis.

Keir Starmer slammed the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and has demanded they “follow the science” and impose a national two-to-three week “circuit breaker” to curb the outbreak.

“If we don’t, we could sleep-walk into a long and bleak winter. That choice is now for the prime minister to make. I urge him to do so,” said the Labour leader during a televised press conference this evening (Tuesday).

In a tweet, Starmer wrote: “We are at a decisive moment in the fight against the coronavirus. That’s why I’m calling for a circuit break in England – to protect the NHS, fix testing and get control of the virus.”

Govt rejected Sage advice three weeks ago

Starmer’s comments mark a significant shift in the Opposition’s – up until now – support for the restrictions imposed by the government to try and halt the pandemic .

During his statement, Starmer said: “Three things are now clear: the government has not got a credible plan to slow infections. It has lost control of the virus. And it’s no longer following the scientific advice.”

It responds to news that the government rejected Sage advice three weeks ago to impose the “circuit breaker” the Labour leader has now called for.

The panel of experts told Johnson’s government on September 21 that the measure was the best way to control the virus spreading further.

Labour described the revelation as “disturbing” while communities secretary Robert Jerrick insisted the “robust action” taken has “balanced” the economy.

PM will consider a ‘circuit breaker’

The Telegraph reported tonight that Johnson “will consider a ‘circuit breaker’ if his tier system fails to work” as Starmer “intensifies pressure on No. 10” to impose tighter restrictions.

Johnson is at risk of being squeezed by both sides of the restrictions argument with more pressure being applied from “lockdown sceptics” in his own party.

Johnson had told Tory backbenches at last night’s meeting of the 1922 Committee that Starmer was “careering all over the place like a broken shopping trolley”, according to “a senior Conservative source”, quoted by the Guardian.

Lockdown rebels defy furious Hancock

The PM’s address however didn’t dissuade some of the lockdown sceptics with 42 Tory MPs voting against the 10pm pub and restaurants curfew in what has been described as a “warning shot” fired “amid angry scenes”.

Earlier in the Commons, health secretary Matt Hancock was highly critical of the sceptics, some of whom referred to the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD).

In a “furious response”, Hancock dismissed the “two central plains” of the GBD as “emphatically false”, rejecting ideas of herd immunity and “fencing off the elderly” as completely out of hand.

A total of 82 MPs voted against the 10pm curfew, fines and other restrictions imposed by the government but Labour formally abstained and the government’s motion passed 299-82.

Hancock told MPs that the three tier system announced by the PM on Monday could go even further.

“We do not rule out further restrictions in the hospitality, leisure, entertainment or personal care sectors. But retail, schools and universities will remain open,” the health secretary said.

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