North West regional leaders have branded the Government latest lockdown restrictions as a “blatant act of levelling-down” as they called for further financial support.
It comes after Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham issued a joint statement with other Labour council leaders in the region claiming they would “resist” any efforts by ministers to impose Tier Three restrictions because it would cause “certain harm” to the local economy.
On Wednesday, Liverpool City Region became the first area of the UK to enter the Very High category of lockdown, meaning strict new rules around social mixing and business closures.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to meet with health officials to discuss extending the measures to other regions, including Greater Manchester and Lancashire.
But speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Burnham said he would reject further restrictions unless the Government committed to increasing the furlough wage support to 80%.
“We wouldn’t accept Tier 3 on the current terms, the terms that they forced onto Steve Rotheram and the Liverpool City region,” he said.
“I’ve been quite clear, it’s an 80% furlough across all of the industries closed, but also those industries suffering an indirect loss of trade, it’s a self-employment scheme at 80% for everybody. Freelancers and others.
“That is what we are talking about and until anything like that is on the table we will not be able to accept Tier 3 because they are asking us to commit an act of self harm in leveling down our economy.”
And he accused Boris Johnson of trying to “pressure” local leaders in accepting the changes without adequate financial support, saying the government were taking a “penny-pinching” approach to tackling the surge in cases.
Meanwhile, Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region insisted he was not given a choice over accepting the severe restrictions, saying “we were going into Tier 3 no matter what”.
And he hit out at the PM for trying to “divide” local leaders, adding: “Andy [Burham] and I are absolutely clear, we are not going to allow ourselves to be divided, we’re not going to allow our regions to be divided and we will do our damnedest to ensure the North is not divided.
“We are not going to stand by while the Government plays politics with us.”
The two Labour leaders also reiterated their support for a national ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, which would see all of England placed under severe restrictions for a number of weeks in a bid to get the virus under control.
Raising the proposals at Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said he was also in support of a ‘circuit break’ lockdown, added: “[Boris Johnson] probably hasn’t noticed that this morning, the council leaders in Greater Manchester…including the mayor and including the Conservative leader of Bolton Council, have said in a press statement that they support a circuit-break above Tier 3 restrictions.”
But the claim sparked a furious response from the Conservative leader of Bolton, David Greenhalgh, who had refused to sign a letter signalling support for the plan.
The Tory leader said he was “disgusted that he had been misrepresented by the Labour leader”.
“Let me be very clear. I am not in support of a circuit break at this time,” he added.
“Every GM Leader knows that this is my position and that I refused to sign a document that stated this.”
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