Government criticised for treating North 'like a petri dish' as tougher restrictions considered

Connor Parker
·4 min read

Watch: Johnson expected to order pubs to shut in the north of England

The government is treating the North “like a petri dish” for local lockdown experiments as harsher restrictions are considered, the mayor of the Liverpool City Region has said.

With coronavirus cases continuing to rise across the north of England and current local lockdown measures failing to stop the increase, the government is considering tightening measures only weeks after introducing new ones.

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram told Good Morning Britain: “What we've seen is an ever-widening North-South divide in measures being taken.

“Quite simply the North should not be a petri dish for experimentation by central government."

Politicians across the North have criticised ministers over plans to close pubs and restaurants next week to tackle rising coronavirus cases.

The proposals, which have not been confirmed, appeared on the front pages of The Times, Telegraph and The Sun newspapers, provoking an angry response from opposition MPs and Labour elected mayors.

Read more: Hospital suspends all non-emergency surgery for 48 hours following COVID-19 outbreak

City Region Mayors attacked the plans over closing pubs and restaurants so soon after new measures were brought in. (PA)
City region mayors attacked the plans over closing pubs and restaurants so soon after new measures were brought in. (PA)

Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and large parts of the north of England are currently under local lockdowns, limiting visits to other people’s households, while pubs have to close at 10pm nationally.

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.”

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”.

Watch: Johnson faces backlash from northern MPs over lockdown

Sheffield is not currently under local lockdown but is on receiving enhanced support from the government and cases have soared to over 200 per 100,000 in recent weeks, mainly driven by the return of students.

Rotheram said: “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.”

Read more: Coronavirus infections soar by 56% in a week as test and trace fails to hit targets

Rotheram said extra funding for affected areas would be needed saying the government provided support at the start of lockdown in March and they would need to again if measures were tightened.

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…”

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.

Read more: COVID killed three times as many people as flu and pneumonia combined this year

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.”

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.”

There has also been disquiet among Tory backbenchers who are growing increasingly irritated by the extended limitations on the population’s civil liberties.

Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, Jake Berry, accused the government of being “London-centric” in its thinking towards local lockdowns and said any enhanced measures should be backed up by treasury support.

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