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Boris Johnson accuses Keir Starmer of 'sniping' after Labour leader criticises effectiveness of local lockdowns

Jimmy Nsubuga
·3-min read

Watch: Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer go head-to-head over COVID restrictions

Boris Johnson has accused Sir Keir Starmer of “sniping from the sidelines” after the Labour leader criticised the effectiveness of local lockdowns.

During Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday, Starmer questioned why only one area of England, Luton, has ever come out of local restrictions.

He also pushed Johnson on what his plan for lifting restrictions is and criticised his “whack-a-mole” strategy.

Starmer said: “Over 16 million people, that’s about one in four, are now living under local restrictions.

In recent months, 48 areas in England have gone into local restrictions, but only one has ever come out and stayed out – that is Luton.”

In response, Johnson accused the opposition leader of “sniping from the sidelines”.

The PM said the reason Luton had been the only area to be freed from a local lockdown was that “local people pulled together to suppress the virus” and followed guidance.

Johnson was slammed for the reply, with some opposition MPs interpreting the answer as a criticism against other areas still in lockdown.

Labour MP Marie Rimmer tweeted: “According to Boris Johnson, Luton is the only place to exit local lockdown because the people ‘pulled together.’

Pedestrians wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, carry boxes and shopping bags as they walk past shops in Oldham, Greater Manchester, northwest England on August 20, 2020. - Oldham, as of Thursday, has one of the highest rates of new COVID-19 infections, and could be subject to a imposed Local Lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / AFP) (Photo by LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images)
Oldham is among the places still under local restrictions. (Getty)

“Perhaps rather than implying blame on the people of Merseyside, the PM should focus on fixing test and trace.”

Her colleague Labour MP Fleur Anderson added: “The PM saying that we just need to ‘pull together’ to defeat the virus. This is a very concerning attitude.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the accusations of “sniping” was pathetic nonsense and that the PM was “out of touch with ordinary people”.

Starmer also questioned Johnson’s strategy to deal with local lockdowns.

The Labour leader said: “When local restrictions were introduced, the prime minister described them as a ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy.

“That implies that, at some stage, the mole goes down and that restrictions are lifted. But, in fact, in some lockdown areas infection rates are still going up.

“And in towns like Bradford, Bury and Oldham, restrictions have now been in place for months.

People wear face masks as a precaution against the transmission of COVID-19 as they walk past closed shops in the centre of Bolton, northern England on September 9, 2020, as local lockdown restrictions are put in place due to a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus in the city. - The UK government, which controls health policy in England, imposed tougher restrictions on Bolton, near the northwest city of Manchester, after a "very significant rise" in cases. Bolton was found to have 120 cases per 100,000 people -- the highest in the country. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Local lockdown restrictions are still in place in Bolton. (Getty)

“For many of those communities affected, things feel like they are getting worse, not better. So I ask a question on their behalf: what is the prime minister’s strategy for bringing these cases out of restrictions so they can see their families again?”

Johnson replied: “Nobody wants to impose restrictions of this kind, whether in Bradford or anywhere else in the country, and we work very closely with local authorities to ensure that we have the right mix of the approach that we adopt.

“But, frankly, when you have the virus going up in the way that it is now in some parts of the country, you have to take strong, local action.”

Sir Keir also criticised Johnson’s confusion over the ban on households mixing in the North East of England, suggesting the prime minister’s performances in the Commons had already demonstrated he found it tough to grasp detail.

Watch: What are the fines for not self-isolating?

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