Bitter row between Whitehall and Greater Manchester over coronavirus measures
A furious row has broken out between Boris Johnson’s Government and leaders in Greater Manchester over efforts to impose tighter coronavirus restrictions.
The Government has been pushing for the region’s politicians to accept Tier 3 measures which would include the closure of pubs and bars unless they could operate as restaurants.
But MPs and council chiefs lined up to criticise the plan and the way it has been handled by Number 10 and the Department of Health and Social Care, with no decision yet announced on whether the city will face the top tier measures.
A key sticking point is the extra funding that would be made available to Greater Manchester if harsher lockdown measures are imposed.
Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham has threatened legal action if Tier 3 restrictions are imposed without agreement.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was launching a leak inquiry into how information about the wrangling became public following reports the region was expected to be moved to Tier 3.
MPs from across the House told ministers they opposed being moved into Tier 3 in a private meeting on Thursday morning.
Labour’s Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, said there was “unanimous fury” about the process, evidence base and economic support packages on the table during the talks.
“We want action but it has to be the right action, because we’ve lived in Tier 2 for nearly three months and it’s not worked,” she said.
Mr Hancock urged her “to work together for the best outcome for the people of Greater Manchester”.
“Those conversations with the local leadership have been going on for some time.”
Wigan’s Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy said: “Despite repeated attempts to claim we’re divided there was total unity from Conservative and Labour Greater Manchester MPs on the call with the Minister this morning.
“We will support evidence based interventions with adequate financial support. We will not support this chaos.”
Tory MPs involved in the meeting were also highly critical.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential backbench 1922 Committee and MP for Altrincham and Sale West, told the PA news agency: “The case has not been made for Greater Manchester to move into a Tier 3 ‘lockdown’.
“There is widespread concern amongst Members of Parliament, council leaders and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, all resisting the suggestion that Tier 3 should be introduced.”
Hazel Grove’s William Wragg said: “I have news from Greater Manchester where the impossible has been achieved.
“All of the Members of Parliament, the leaders of the councils and indeed the mayor, surprisingly, are in agreement with one another, the meeting we had earlier today was entirely pointless.
“I may as well have talked to a wall, quite frankly.”
A separate meeting between the Government and local leaders went little better.
Oldham’s Labour council leader Sean Fielding said: “I am far from a seasoned negotiator but the GM (Greater Manchester) meeting just now was a masterclass in how not to do it.
“Opening line from Govt: ‘We either do tier 3 with you or impose it’.
“And then absolutely nothing is offered to bring us on side because ‘there is no money’.”
Further meetings are planned between the Government and Greater Manchester’s leaders.
Mr Hancock said that in areas currently in the second tier “where discussions are ongoing” no further decisions have yet been made “but we need to make rapid progress”.