Ministers facing revolt over leaked plans to shut northern pubs as leaders call for local furlough schemes

Imogen Braddick
·5-min read
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Getty Images

The Government is facing revolt from leaders in the North of England over leaked plans to close pubs and restaurants next week to tackle rising coronavirus cases.

Hospitality venues in coronavirus hotspots look set to face fresh restrictions after Downing Street said new data suggests there is "significant" transmission taking place in hospitality settings.

Downing Street said on Thursday that a "range of measures" is being looked at, with a particular focus on northern England, where it says infection rates are rising fastest.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick did not rule out pubs being ordered to shut, while ministers are considering fresh financial packages to help the hardest hit areas and industries.

But with infection rates soaring in cities including Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, regional leaders criticised the Government for not consulting them ahead of changes.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham tweeted: "No discussion. No consultation. Millions of lives affected by Whitehall diktat. It is proving impossible to deal with this Government."

He added: "The first time I heard that all bars and restaurants across the North are to close was when I read it in @thetimes.

"I’ve had two meetings with Cabinet Ministers this week along with other Mayors and it wasn’t mentioned once."

Dan Jarvis, Sheffield City Region mayor and Barnsley Central MP, wrote on Twitter: "Recklessly irresponsible to brief the papers but not leaders in the North who’ll somehow have to make this work. Get a grip."

Liverpool City Region metro mayor Steve Rotheram said: "Once again, we are finding out about further restrictions because ministers are choosing to brief newspapers rather than local leaders."

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He added: “It is deeply disappointing to wake up this morning to reports that new Covid-19 restrictions affecting millions of people in our city region, and across the North, could be in place within days, rather than hearing it during a genuine dialogue between ministers and local leaders.

“At the moment we have a patchwork of local measures across the country and too much confusion for the public as a result."

Mr Rotheram said extra funding for affected areas would be needed, adding: "When the country locked down in March, the Chancellor’s actions showed that such significant measures required financial support on a similar scale.

"If it was right then, it certainly is now – so we need to be seeing local furlough schemes, business grants and financial support for the self-employed and those who cannot work from home."

Shadow business minister Lucy Powell, Manchester Central MP, tweeted: "Let’s remember infections still largely occurring: inside households, then in education (mainly university) settings then health/care settings, then workplaces. In that order. Only then (and further down) do you get to hospitality and other settings…"

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Referring to the prospect of pubs in northern England being shut down, she added: "It’s really upsetting and a lot of anxiety for all those working in and running restaurants, pubs, bars in “the North” (that place up there where 15m of us live)."

Labour MPs in the North East of England were also angry.

Jarrow MP Kate Osborne shared The Times’ front page, tweeting: "If this is true, the Government is showing contempt for all by this being announced in the paper today.

"There needs to be a package of support for all and we need a strategy, a plan to get us out of these local restrictions. There needs to be hope for us all."

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And Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for South Shields, said: "My contempt for this Government grows stronger every day.

"If this is true it will destroy our local economy in Shields and since testing remains a shambles it won’t even reduce our infection rates."

Downing Street said new restrictions on hospitality could be introduced in England as ministers come under pressure to act after Scotland announced fresh restrictions on the hospitality sector.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: "We are seeing coronavirus cases rise across the entire country but they are rising faster in the North East and the North West.

"We are keeping the data under close review and we are considering a range of options to reduce the spread of the virus in order to protect communities and to protect the NHS."

He added: "Early data does suggest that a significant proportion of exposure to the virus is seen in the hospitality sector, and that is even more pronounced in younger age groups where we have been seeing the most rapid rise in infections.

"The data is new and we will continue to gather evidence and review it."

Downing Street also hinted at financial help and did not rule out a fresh furlough scheme for the worst affected industries and per-head funding for local authorities.

"Any decisions we take will not be made lightly; protecting jobs, particularly the two million in the UK’s hospitality sector, has been a priority throughout our response to the pandemic," the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.

Meanwhile, a Commons vote on the controversial 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants in England has been scheduled for Tuesday, paving the way for a rebellion on the Tory backbenches.

But Mr Johnson is likely to be spared a defeat after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer ruled out telling his MPs to oppose the measure in a "take-it-or-leave-it vote".

He told reporters: "And therefore, if you vote down the current arrangements, there won’t be any restrictions in place. That’s not what we want, so we won’t be voting down the restrictions in place."

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