Greater Manchester will 'stand firm and fight back' against Tier 3 restrictions, mayor Andy Burnham says

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman

Tory MPs have stepped up the pressure on Boris Johnson over his handling of the second Covid wave after an impassioned speech by a northern Mayor.

Local politicians and the Government are at loggerheads over the level of financial support Greater Manchester would get if it is forced, like Liverpool City Region, to accept the most severe coronavirus restrictions – a disagreement that has so far prevented the region from being moved into Tier 3.

And senior Tories warned Number 10 that there is now a growing rebellion on its own backbenches over the bid by ministers to encourage more areas to accept the most stringent measures.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said the city will "stand firm" against being placed under the 'very high' Covid alert level in a highly charged press conference with other leaders in the region.

Mr Burnham said the leaders of Greater Manchester are "fighting back" against restrictions they say are "flawed and unfair".

He said the region is being treated as a "sacrificial lamb" by being asked by ministers to accept a proposal which the "government's own advisers say won't work".

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He said any lockdown in his region would have to have been implemented along with neighbouring regions "and even then it would not be certain to work".

The press conference - held by Mr Burnham, leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese and Greater Manchester's Deputy Mayor Baroness Beverley Hughes - dealt a major blow to the government's lockdown plans.

Greater Manchester had been expected to move into the 'very high' alert level - meaning all hospitality venues except restaurants would be closed and indoor household mixing would be banned - but it appears talks between the government and local leaders collapsed.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, in a statement to MPs in which he had been expected to announce tighter restrictions for Greater Manchester, instead said discussions were still "on going".

He responded to Mr Burnham's comments, saying: "I call upon local leaders to set aside this party politics and to work with us to put in place measures that are needed."

Local leaders have been locked in tense conversations with government representatives throughout Thursday, trying to secure financial support for their region before accepting a tightening of restrictions.

Asked whether the government would be offering any additional support, Mr Hancock said there is already an "unprecedented" package available.

Mr Burnham said the government should offer "a full and fair 80% furlough for all affected workers, 80% income support for people who are self-employed, and a proper compensation scheme for businesses".

Mayor Burnham said it is "wrong" for some of the poorest parts of England to be put under a "punishing lockdown without proper support for the people and businesses affected".

"To do so will result in certain hardship, job losses, business failure, he said, "it will cause harm in a different way to people's mental health and is not certain to control the virus".

He said both Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region - the only area under tier three restrictions - are being used as "canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy as an attempt to prevent the expense of what is truly needed".

Sir Richard Leese said the government was asking the authority to sign up to measures that its own advisers were not convinced would work.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam told Greater Manchester leaders in a call on Wednesday that a nationwide lockdown was the "only certain thing to work", he said.

Speaking after Mr Burnham at the press conference, he asked: "Why would we accept a proposal that their own advisers say won't work?"

Sir Richard said the region is "still in a position where we are prepared to work co-operatively with government".

Covid tiers: What are the differences between each alert level?

  • Medium (Tier 1) - Rule of six applies indoors and outdoors. Pubs and restaurants close at 10pm.

  • High (Tier 2) - Households must not mix indoors in any setting including pubs and restaurants. Rule of six applies outdoors

  • Very high (Tier 3) - Households must not mix indoors, or in private gardens. Rule of six applies in outdoor spaces including parks. Pubs and bars which don't serve meals will be closed

But he added: "We are not going to accept a deal that will damage thousands of people in this city region for no apparent benefit."

Both mayors said the government had not offered the necessary financial backing for tier 3 lockdown.

Mr Burnham added: "That is why we have unanimously opposed the Government's plans for Tier 3. They are flawed and unfair.

"They are asking us to gamble our residents' jobs, homes and businesses and a large chunk of our economy on a strategy that their own experts tell them might not work.

"We would never sign up for that."

Mr Burnham said the government was "treating us with contempt", adding: "People are fed up of being treated in this way, the North is fed up of being pushed around.

"We aren't going to be pushed around any more."

But senior Tories were among those arguing for Greater Manchester to be left out of the strictest freedom curbs, which includes closing large swathes of the hospitality sector.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, said it would be “very foolish” for Greater Manchester to move into Tier 3.

The Altrincham and Sale West MP told Times Radio: “We have a very clear demonstration at the moment that if you have no support amongst members of parliament, no support from the council leaders, and opposition from the Mayor as well, there clearly isn’t the broad consent for this measure that would be needed.

“And I think it would be a very foolish thing to do.”