A move to make Greater Manchester the second region in England to enter strict Tier 3 lockdown restrictions, provoked an extraordinary backlash from local leaders.
Boris Johnson’s aide Eddie Lister confirmed to local leaders on a Zoom call on Thursday morning that the region was set to be placed in the highest tier, according to Paul Waugh from the Huffington Post.
Watch: How will England's three-tier local lockdown system work?
However, health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons that “discussions are ongoing” with local leaders on moving areas classed as high to very high, and thanked the leadership in Liverpool for their “public service and cross-party teamwork” in agreeing such an increase in the alert level.
Reacting to the ongoing talks, Oldham West and Royton MP Jim McMahon said that Downing Street refused to tell MPs whether Greater Manchester was being placed in Tier 3 and described the meeting as “pointless”.
The Labour MP tweeted: “The COVID-19 meeting with government is over and it was absolutely pointless.
“No consultation, no evidence was shared on the likely impact of further measures, no economic analysis and no enhanced financial support.
“Wouldn’t even tell us if Greater Manchester is being placed in Tier 3 lockdown!”
Labour MP Lucy Powell echoed the report, adding on Twitter: “There was unanimous anger on this call at process, evidence base for proposals and economic support.”
The Manchester Central MP then told the Commons: “There was unanimous fury on that call about the process, about the evidence base and about the economic support packages on the table. We want action but it has to be the right action.
“Because we’ve lived in Tier 2 now for nearly three months and it’s not worked.”
Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow work and pensions secretary and also a Greater Manchester MP, described Tier 3 as “widespread destitution for an unspecified period of time”.
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Afzal Khan, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, described the meeting as a “waste of time”.
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.”
Calling for a circuit breaker national lockdown, Khan added in a statement: “Greater Manchester MPs and local leaders are being given the run around by this dangerously incompetent government. It must stop.”
Speaking in the Commons this morning, the health secretary said: “In other areas currently in the second tier where discussions are ongoing, no further decisions have yet been made but we need to make rapid progress.”
It comes days after Liverpool became the first area to be placed under the highest tier of the new system.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has been having talks with No 10, having signalled resistance to pressure to enter Tier 3 despite soaring infection rates.
It means the city faces having to close its bars, gyms and betting shops, while pubs will only be able to serve alcohol to people sitting down for a “substantial meal”.
Burnham previously said the region could legally challenge any decision by ministers to put it into Tier 3 restrictions.
He told an online press conference on Wednesday that if Greater Manchester was put into Tier 3 it would be “by imposition, not consent”.
He added: “We are law abiding people, we would respect the law of the land.
“But we would consider other routes, legal routes, where we could protect our many thousands of residents who are going to be left in severe hardship in the run up to Christmas.
“We would not just leave them in the lurch, we would try and support them and that would include any legal action we could take on their behalf.”
This morning, Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Breakfast that, in his opinion, Manchester needed to go into Tier 3 measures, as did other regions.
He added: “There is always going to be some friction between the focus on the numbers of case, and the need to keep the economy going, but from a purely academic point of view where I’m coming from, if you allow the numbers to rise it inevitably has an impact on the economy because you start to lose the capacity to deliver these other essential services.”
Burnham said a national circuit-breaker lockdown, which Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for on Tuesday, would be a “better and fairer way” of tackling the pandemic.
He told a press conference: “I think that (a circuit-breaker) is more likely to succeed for three reasons.
“It is being done nationally so there isn’t that opportunity for a neighbouring area to bring cases back into a Tier 3 area.”
He said it would also be beneficial because regions would get national support and would bring cases down further to allow local areas to “reset” test and trace.