Preston council head claims government is 'trying to divide' the North by 'bullying' leaders to accept Covid tier system

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent

The government has been accused of "trying to divide" the North of England by "bullying" leaders into accepting new Covid tier regulations, the head of Preston Council has told ITV News.

Matthew Brown claimed Westminster had threatened to withdraw funding, and said he had been warned communities would be left "significantly worse off" if leaders did not impose tougher coronavirus measures on Lancashire.

He said he believed the government were using tactics to "divide the North" as tensions mount between No.10 and local leaders.

Mr Brown said he was "sad" Lancashire had been left with no choice but to be put under Tier 3 restrictions while other regions "stood firm".

"Bullying is possibly too strong a word, but there was certainly lots of pressure put on us to act in a certain way," Mr Brown said.

"We were told that if we didn't do that then they'd be consequences i.e our community would be significantly worse off in terms of freedoms, the economy and also in terms of money.

"So that to me that sounds like bullying, doesn't it.

"I think the government are trying to divide the North and I can see why other regions have stood firm and I'm sad in many ways that Lancashire didn't.

"But I was put in a situation that if I didn't accept the deal for Preston, we would have been significantly worse off in our communities.

"I couldn't do that to our community."

Meanwhile, 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 and Lancashire, to accept the most severe coronavirus restrictions – a disagreement that has so far prevented the region from being moved into Tier 3.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had suggested the government had the power to enforce powers on Manchester without local leaders', including Mayor Andy Burnham's, consent.

Greater Manchester leaders fear Tier 3 restrictions would be 'flawed and unfair' Credit: PA

The foreign secretary told BBC Breakfast: “Ultimately we need to take action – we can’t have a situation as we have seen in Manchester where Andy Burnham is effectively trying to hold the Government over a barrel over money and politics when actually we need to take action."

In a joint statement released on Friday morning, northern mayors said "this is a fight for what is right" as they warned the government's financial package for the hardest hit regions would "not prevent severe hardship".

The statement from Mr Burnham, Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of North Tyne and Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region, said: “The Government is claiming that the North is divided and only interested in getting what we can for our own region.

“That is simply not the case."