Boris Johnson warned over ‘fracturing’ of UK amid lockdown easing as public approval falls

Boris Johnson, seen here applauding NHS workers, has been warned his efforts to ease lockdown restrictions may fracture national unity if no Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Boris Johnson has been warned he may cause a fracturing of national unity if he fails to listen to regional concerns about the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham spoke out as a poll reported public support for the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis had fallen.

Mr Burnham said the Prime Minister did not inform civic leaders of his easing of restrictions in advance and said the dropping of the ‘Stay at Home’ message felt “premature”.

While cases of coronavirus have been easing in the South East, Mr Burnham believed the loosening of restrictions came too quickly for the North where the 'R number' – the rate of transmission of the disease -remains higher.

Meanwhile, only 39% of Britons approve of the Government’s response – down from 48% a week ago – according to an Opinium survey of 2,005 adults on Wednesday and Thursday.

Those saying they disapproved rose from 36% to 42%.

Writing in The Observer, Mr Burham criticised Mr Johnson's Sunday night address to the nation that urged those who could not work from home to return to the workplace.

“On the eve of a new working week, the PM was on TV ‘actively encouraging’ a return to work. Even though that would clearly put more cars on roads and people on trams, no-one in government thought it important to tell the cities that would have to cope with that,” he wrote.

“The surprisingly permissive package might well be right for the South East, given the fall in cases there. But my gut feeling told me it was too soon for the North.

“Certainly, the abrupt dropping of the clear ‘stay at home’ message felt premature.

“If the Government carries on in the same vein, expect to see an even greater fracturing of national unity. Different places will adopt their own messaging and policies.”

Last week, Mr Burnham and his Liverpudlian counterpart Steve Rotheram wrote to Mr Johnson calling on him to publish the ‘R number’ for each region of the UK on a daily basis.

Mr Burnham told the Calling Peston podcast that the R number in the North West was, at 0.8, too high for lockdown to be lifted in the region.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK Credit: PA Graphics

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner described government communication to local authorities as "patchy" and said she backed councils, such as Liverpool which is not planning to reopen schools to all pupils on June 1, in trying to ensure their residents are safe.

She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that safety information for areas including Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the north east "hasn’t been there".

“We believe the R rate is higher in those areas, in those regions, so therefore we want the Government to publish the science behind it and provide the support,” she said.

Daily coronavirus tests in the UK Credit: PA Graphics

Elsewhere, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has appealed to teaching unions to work with the Government to find “practical solutions” to enable schools in England to begin re-opening.

His plea came amid fears that plans to start the phased re-opening of primary schools from next month, as part of the easing of the coronavirus lockdown in the country, may be scuppered if the unions refuse to co-operate.

Talks on Friday between union representatives and government scientific advisers, intended to provide assurance about the Government’s proposals to enable children to return safely, ended with union leaders saying it had raised more more questions than answers.