Covid war of words escalates between ‘North and South’ as letter splits Tories

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Northern Tory MPs have hit out at a letter by 20 of their southern Conservative colleagues – pushing for Manchester to accept tighter Covid restrictions – as “ill advised”.

Labour mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham also hit back at what he called an “I’m alright Jack” letter signed by a score of Tory MPs saying “it won’t cut much ice here”.

Jerome Mayhew, Conservative MP for Broadland (since December 12, 2019) organised and sent the letter to Burnham and Labour leader Keir Starmer yesterday (October 17) and posted it on Twitter, with a statement: “Let’s work together to avoid another damaging lockdown, tackling the virus on a regional basis, responding to the infection rates if we are [to] save lives, look after the NHS, keep children in school, & shelter the economy.”

The Tory signatories have urged Starmer and Burnham to change course and avoid the “pain of a national lockdown” by agreeing to put Manchester under tier 3 restrictions – like Liverpool and Lancashire. They say predominantly rural areas in the south have far lower infection rates than Manchester, writing: “Given this disparity, it does not make sense to shut down the whole country when the virus is spiking in particular locations.”

The 20 MPs state “tens of thousands of jobs in hospitality and leisure” will be “put at risk needlessly” by a national lockdown and argue instead a “regional approach offers some protection to businesses in areas of low prevalence”.

‘Deeply disappointing, unnecessary and ill advised’

However, the letter has drawn criticism from other Tory MPs in the north, with James Dalby, MP for Bury North, calling it “deeply disappointing” and the intervention as “unnecessary and ill advised”.

Bury South’s Tory MP Christian Wakeford said the region’s MPs are “united in opposing tier 3 in its current form” and added: “Interventions from fellow members who don’t understand the situation are neither wanted nor helpful.”

Conservative MP for Bolton West Chris Green voiced his criticism of the letter just days after resigning from his government post after calling the prime minister’s Covid “worse than the disease” and is forcing businesses to the brink of bankruptcy.

PM and Gove accuse mayor of putting lives at risk

Boris Johnson accused Manchester’s mayor of putting the lives of residents at risk by not agreeing to put the city and region into tier 3 on Friday. Today, Burnham hit back telling BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the description is “an exaggeration of the position we’re in.”

Burnham said it is a “serious situation” but not the one described by the PM and added: “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.”

On the same programme, Michael Gove accused Burnham of “political posturing” and repeated Johnson’s claim he was putting people’s lives at risk by opting for “press conferences and posturing” instead of moving the region into tier 3.

Gove also stated the economic support offered to businesses and individuals affected by tighter restrictions is sufficient and rejected Labour’s call for a national “circuit breaker” to contain the spread of the virus.

Burnham calls for leaders to help ‘break the impasse’

Burnham has written to the leaders of all parties at Westminster with an appeal for their help to “break the impasse” over Covid restrictions by holding a vote in parliament this week.

The Manchester mayor is calling for a financial package to support people and businesses in tier 3 areas facing the greatest restrictions that goes beyond the new measures announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier this month.

“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,” said Burnham, continuing: “We believe that sense of fairness will only be achieved by providing similar terms to the financial package afforded to the whole country back in March.”

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