Greater Manchester and Lancashire had been set to join Liverpool yesterday in Tier 3 – the level with the strictest restrictions. But Labour’s Andy Burnham, who is Greater Manchester’s mayor, is resisting the call from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Cabinet – and accused ministers of sacrificing the North to save the South.
After heated meetings, Mr Burnham called a press conference and said: “We are being set up as the canaries in the coal mine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy as an attempt to prevent the expense of what is truly needed.”
The Government can force through changes without local agreement, but Mr Burnham warned he would launch legal action if that happened.
He wants any new restrictions to be backed by an extensive economic package, including 80 percent pay for furloughed workers.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already announced it will be two-thirds of pay.
Meanwhile Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday that the North-west was in a “severe” situation with Covid-19 cases rising “exponentially”.
He told MPs: “I call upon local leaders to set aside party politics and to work with us to put in place the measures that are needed so that we can deal with this virus and support people through it. This is a time for people to come together so that we can control this virus.”
Half of England’s population – around 28 million people – will be under stricter lockdown measures from midnight tonight.
London will move into Tier 2, along with Essex, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, York, north-east Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield.
Some other regions, including Leeds and Newcastle, are already inTier 2, which includes a 10pm pub curfew.
Mr Hancock admitted: “Things will get worse before they get better but I know there are brighter skies and calmer seas ahead.
“When a virus is moving fast, we cannot stay still. If we act collectively, we know we can control the virus because we have done it before.
“I believe in the people of this country and I believe, in fact I know, that the people of this country want to control the virus to protect their loved ones, their lives and their livelihoods.
“And I believe from the bottom of my heart that acting together we can.
He also said discussions with the North-west were “ongoing”.
Later, a furious Mr Burnham said that Tier 3 measures will have a devastating economic impact.
He insisted that leaders in the region were “unanimously opposed” to the “flawed and unfair” changes, which include pub closures, a ban on households mixing indoors and travel curbs.
He added: “Our conclusion from the No10 meeting this morning – they are willing to try and sacrifice jobs and businesses here to try and save them elsewhere.”
He then claimed that deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam suggested a national lockdown was the “only certain thing to work”.
Mr Burnham said: “They are asking us to gamble our residents’ jobs, homes and businesses and a large chunk of our economy on a strategy that their own experts tell them might not work. We would never sign up for that.
“We have to protect the health of the nation but let’s do it as one nation, and not make the North of England the sacrificial lamb for an ill-thought-through Downing Street policy which doesn’t make sense in the real world.
People are fed-up of being treated in this way, the North is fed-up of being pushed around.We aren’t going to be pushed around any more.”
Meanwhile senior Tory Sir Graham Brady, who is MP for Altrincham and Sale West, claimed the “case has not been made” for a tougher lockdown in the region.
He said there was a danger the public would “lose patience very quickly” if measures were imposed without agreement. And it would be “very foolish” for the Government to press ahead.