Coronavirus: PM’s lockdown plan raises ‘more questions than answers’, says Labour leader

Boris Johnson’s address to the nation raised “more questions than answers”, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has told Sky News.

Reacting to the prime minister’s speech, Sir Keir said: “I think what the country wanted tonight was real clarity and a sense of consensus – and I’m afraid we haven’t got that.”

Mr Johnson set out “the first careful steps” in easing the coronavirus lockdown – with people in England allowed to spend more leisure time outside from Wednesday.

And in a bid to kick-start the economy, the PM said anyone who cannot work from home – such as those in construction and manufacturing – should be “actively encouraged” to go to work from Monday.

People are now being told to “stay alert, control the virus, save lives” – staying home as much as possible, continuing to keep two metres apart when outside, and limiting contact with other people.

But Sir Keir said this new message “just isn’t clear enough”.

He continued: “There are more questions than answers in the prime minister’s statement.

“We now have the prospect of England, Scotland and Wales with different messages and pulling in different directions.

“That clarity isn’t there, that consensus isn’t there.

“I appreciate there will be more detail tomorrow and there’ll be further questions to be asked.

“But at the moment there’s a gap between what we really needed tonight and what we got.”

The Labour leader said elements of the PM’s speech “causes real concern” – particularly people who cannot work from home being told to return to work.

“Millions of people are being told, particularly in construction and manufacturing, to effectively go back to work tomorrow,” he said.

“That’s in about 12 hours’ time but they’re being told at the same time to go back to work if possible not using public transport. That’s a real logistical problem for tomorrow morning for millions of people.”

While the government at Westminster has updated its messaging to the public as it begins easing the lockdown in England, the leaders of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have said they will be sticking with the original “stay at home” message.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford told Sky News the PM had “broken” the four-nation consensus around the lockdown.

“There’s a divergence in the messages that are being delivered and my party and my government in Edinburgh regret that,” he said.

“What we got tonight is confusion.”

Mr Blackford said plans for a potential phase reopening of schools, shops and the hospitality industry from the start of next month “fills me with horror”.

“Now is not the time for us to be putting in place a reversal of lockdown. It’s far too early for that,” he added.

“There’s a very real concern that people will get the message from what the prime minister said tonight that it’s back to business as usual.

“That poses real questions for the growth of this virus.”

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he did not see the rationale behind easing the lockdown “at this critical stage”.

“It risks what people have fought so hard for,” he said.

“The prime minister has not provided the country with any evidence or justification for this change. Instead, he risks creating more confusion than clarity by badly communicating his government’s plans.”

Union leaders criticised the PM’s speech, accusing Mr Johnson of sending mixed messages which could have “lethal” consequences.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the speech “will cause working people a lot of confusion and anxiety”.

She added: “The government still hasn’t published guidance on how workers will be kept safe. So how can the prime minister – with 12 hours’ notice – tell people they should be going back to sites and factories?

“It’s a recipe for chaos.”

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison said: “The return to work must be safe. There must be no cutting corners, no playing fast and loose with employees’ safety. The economy is important, but lives are too.”

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: “There is now a real risk that in a few hours’ time, workers will be cramming onto public transport, putting at risk their lives and those of others.

“This has not been thought through and the failure to do so places working people in danger.”

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) has advised its members not to work if they felt unsafe.

It added that the government’s change in messaging would unleash a surge in passengers on the railways and Tubes from Monday, breaching social distancing measures with “potentially lethal consequences” for staff and the public.

Teaching unions, meanwhile, have expressed concerns about a phased reopening of schools potentially starting within weeks.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, called it “reckless”, adding: “Coronavirus continues to ravage communities in the UK and the rate of COVID-19 infection is still far too great for the wider opening of our schools.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said “social distancing is extremely difficult” to maintain with children in reception and year one.

The NAHT union, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said the plan was likely to lead to questions from “anxious parents”.

A policing group has also raised concerns in the wake of the PM’s speech.

The Police Federation of England and Wales said the relaxed lockdown guidance still risks being a set of “loose rules that are left open to interpretation” and is difficult to implement.

National chair John Apter said: “What we need from the prime minister and the government now is clear and unambiguous messaging and guidance, explaining what exactly is expected of the public, so that my colleagues can do their level best to police it.”

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