Michael Gove accuses Andy Burnham of ‘posturing’ over Tier Three rules

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Michael Gove today launched a savage attack on Andy Burnham as he accused the Mayor of Greater Manchester of ‘posturing’ amid an ongoing standoff over moving the region into Tier Three coronavirus lockdown rules. 

Mr Gove claimed Mr Burnham was guilty of ‘indulging’ in ‘political positioning’ as he urged the Labour chief to back down and accept the Government’s new restrictions. 

But Mr Burnham immediately hit back as he called for an end to the ‘war of words’ but also left the door open to a legal challenge if ministers decide to impose the measures without his agreement.

The Government wants to move Greater Manchester into the top tier of restrictions because of a surge in infections. 

But Mr Burnham is refusing to agree to the move until ministers bring forward a more generous package of financial support for affected businesses and workers. 

Michael Gove today accused Andy Burnham of 'posturing' over his refusal to accept Greater Manchester being moved into Tier Three coronavirus restrictions

Michael Gove today accused Andy Burnham of ‘posturing’ over his refusal to accept Greater Manchester being moved into Tier Three coronavirus restrictions

But Mr Burnham hit back as he called for an end to the 'war of words' as he also left the door open to launching a legal challenge against the Government's measures

But Mr Burnham hit back as he called for an end to the 'war of words' as he also left the door open to launching a legal challenge against the Government's measures

But Mr Burnham hit back as he called for an end to the ‘war of words’ as he also left the door open to launching a legal challenge against the Government’s measures

Boris Johnson on Friday urged Mr Burnham to work with the Government but also said he retained the right to unilaterally intervene if necessary.

A move to Tier Three would see pubs and bars told to close and a strict ban on households mixing indoors. 

Mr Gove stressed this morning that ministers do want to work with Mr Burnham as he warned of the consequences of a failure to act swiftly. 

He told Sky News: ‘I want to reach an agreement with the political leadership in Greater Manchester.

‘I want them to put aside for a moment some of the political positioning that they have indulged in and I want them to work with us in order to ensure that we save lives and protect the NHS because an absence of action will mean… more people get infected.

‘As more people get infected that will place more pressure on the NHS and the more people sadly in intensive care beds in the North West and in Manchester who are suffering from coronavirus, the fewer intensive care beds are there for people with other serious conditions.

‘All of this is happening as we move closer to the winter and instead of press conferences and posturing what we need is action to save people’s lives.’ 

Labour has called for a national ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown but Mr Gove today categorically ruled out a shift to such a crackdown in the immediate future. 

He said: ‘It would seem to me to be an error to try to impose on every part of the country the same level of restriction when we know that the disease is spreading more intensively and quicker in some parts of the country.

‘The nature of the epidemiology… is different in this wave than it was earlier in the year.’

He added: ‘We always look at how the disease spreads and we will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain public health but… the Labour Party are arguing for blanket restrictions across the country at the moment and the spread and the nature of the disease does not merit that approach at the moment.’  

Mr Burnham later rejected Mr Gove’s accusation that he was ‘playing politics’ as he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘This is all about the health of the people of Greater Manchester.’

‘We were the first in the country… to accept local restrictions and that was three months ago so to those who say we are playing politics I would point them to that which proves we are not doing that.

‘The truth is health, protecting health, is about more than controlling the virus.

‘We have been under those restrictions for three months and people’s mental health now is pretty low, people are worrying about their jobs, their kids, their homes, their businesses.

‘This isn’t about politics or about money, this is about people.’  

He added: ‘What I would say to the Government is let’s come together and agree a package of support that helps people through this and a punishing lockdown without support, trapping places in Tier Three all winter will cause real harm to health in the broadest possible sense.’ 

Mr Burnham said infection number are a ‘matter of concern’ but ‘the figures have been falling in Manchester itself in the last few days’. 

‘I would certainly say this morning let’s step back a little bit from the war of words,’ he said. 

The Government is offering to pay two thirds of the wages of workers who are affected by Tier Three local lockdown restrictions but Mr Burnham wants the level of support to be set at the level of 80 per cent as it was under the old furlough scheme. 

Asked if he was still considering launching a legal challenge against the Government, he said: ‘I would do anything to protect low paid workers who I think now are very, very close to the edge and I don’t think they can survive on two thirds wages.

‘The legal challenge applies to that. I think it is discriminatory on people in the lowest paid professions to say you can have a two thirds furlough but we paid an 80 per cent furlough for people on middle incomes earlier in the year. I do not think that is fair.’

Despite Mr Burnham’s plea to end the ‘war of words’ he suggested Mr Johnson had painted an inaccurate picture of the situation in Manchester at a Downing Street press conference on Friday afternoon. 

The Mayor said: ‘I checked the figures this morning, there are currently around 62 people in intensive care in Greater Manchester, give or take.

‘Back in April it was over 200, around 220, so we are in a different position. There were four hospital admissions of people with Covid at hospitals in Greater Manchester yesterday.

‘So it is a serious situation but I don’t think it was the situation that was described by the Prime Minister of Friday evening.’ 



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