Keir Starmer – 2021 Response to Prime Minister’s Lockdown Statement

The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, on 6 January 2021.

Can I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for his telephone call on Monday to update me.

Can I also thank him for his kind words about the Hon Member for Cardiff Central. She is still in hospital but I’m happy to say she is now improving.

I also want to thank everyone in our NHS and on the frontline for all the work they are doing at the moment in the most stressful of circumstances.

The situation we face is clearly very serious.

Perhaps the darkest moment of the pandemic.

The virus is out of control.

Over a million people in England now have Covid.

The number of hospital admissions is rising.

Tragically, so are the numbers of people dying.

It’s only the early days of January and the NHS is under huge strain.

In those circumstances tougher restrictions are necessary.

We will support them.

We will vote for them.

And urge everybody to comply with the new rules.

Stay at home.

Protect the NHS.

Save lives.

But this is not just bad luck.

It’s not inevitable.

It follows a pattern.

In the first wave of the pandemic, the government was repeatedly too slow to act.

And we ended 2020, with one of the highest death tolls in Europe.

And the worst economic hit of any major economy.

In the early summer, a government report called ‘Preparing for a Challenging Winter’ warned of the risk of a second wave of the virus mutating, and the NHS being overwhelmed.

It also set out the preparations the government needed to take.

I put that report to the Prime Minister in PMQs in July.

Throughout the autumn, track and trace didn’t work.

In September, Sage advised a circuit break.

But the Prime Minister delayed for weeks before acting.

We had a tier system that didn’t work.

Then we had the debacle of the delayed decision to change the rules on mixing at Christmas.

The most recent advice about the situation we are now in was given on 22 December.

But no action was taken for two weeks.

These are the decisions that have led us to the position we are now in.

The vaccine is the only way out now.

And we all must support the national effort to get it rolled out as quickly as possible.

We will do whatever we can to support the government on this.

We were the first country to get the vaccine.

Let’s be the first to get the country to roll-out a vaccine programme too.

But we need a plan to work to.

The Prime Minister’s given some indication in the last few days, but can he tell the House exactly what the plan is?

Can the NHS deliver 2m vaccines a week?

I think they can, I hope they can, but have they been given the support and resource to do so? And we will support that, of course.

Will there be sufficient doses available, week-on-week, to get us to 14m doses by mid-February?

What can we do to help and it’s vital that that happens.

I’m glad to hear that community pharmacies will be helping – can we use volunteers in support of this national effort?

Let me turn to financial support.

Yesterday’s announcement will help.

But the British Chamber of Commerce – and others – have already warned it’s not enough.

There are big gaps and big questions.

First, why is there still nothing to help the three million self-employed who have been excluded from the very start?

That was unfair in March, even more unfair in the autumn, it’s totally unforgivable now.

It may well be a whole year that group have gone without any meaningful support.

That gap needs to be plugged.

Secondly, will the Prime Minister drop his plan to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week?

That needs to be done now. And we will support it.

Will he immediately extend the eviction ban – which is due to run out in just 5 days’ time, just as we’re going in to this new phase?

Third, will he address the obvious issues with financial support for those required to isolate – including Statutory Sick Pay and support for local councils?

And will the Prime Minister finally recognise that now is the worst possible time to freeze pay for our key workers?

On schools, we all recognise the huge damage that closing schools will cause for many children and families.

But the Prime Minister knew that closures might be necessary, so there should always have been a contingency plan.

Up to 1.8 million children don’t have access to a home computer and 900,000 children live in households that rely on mobile internet connection.

So can the Prime Minister tell us, when is the Government going to get the laptops to all those that need them?

He’s spoken about the 50,000 delivered and the 100,000 more but 1.8 million children do have access to a home computer so there’s real urgency now as we go into these weeks.

I welcome what the Prime Minister said about telecoms companies cutting the costs of online learning. It’s vital that they do so, I’m assuming that’s happening straight away because we can’t delay there.

And will the Prime Minister be straight about what’s going happen with exams this year?

We cannot leave this to months down the line.

In particular and very pressing now, for those who were meant to be taking BTEC exams in the next few days.

Surely they must just be cancelled. Some leadership on this is desperately needed.

Next, our borders.

The Prime Minister knows there is real concern about the rapid transmission of this disease and that new strains are being detected in South Africa, Denmark and elsewhere.

The quarantine system isn’t working.

And the Prime Minister said yesterday that: ‘we will be bringing in extra measures’ at the border.

I have to ask, why have those measures not been introduced already?

This has been briefed to the media for days, but nothing has happened.

Mr Speaker, this is the third time the country has been asked to close its doors.

We need to make sure it is the last.

We will support the Prime Minister and the Government in these measures.

We will carry the message and do whatever is asked of us, but we will demand that the Prime Minister keeps his side of the bargain and use this latest lockdown to:

Support families
Protect businesses
And to get the vaccine rolled out as quick and safely as possible.

Thank you.