Coronavirus: Andy Burnham warns PM may “break national unity”


Andy Burnham

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PA Media

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said Boris Johnson would face a “fracture of national unity” if he ignored the regions of the coronavirus epidemic.

Burnham said mayors were unaware that the lock was being eased.

Writing in the Observer, he warned that without additional support for the regions, there was a danger of a “second peak” of the disease.

His intervention came when the Prime Minister admitted that there had been “frustration” about the lock rules.

The decentralized administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have refused to follow Mr Johnson’s plan for flexibility, while cities like Liverpool have said they will not start reopening schools on next month as the government wished.

Burnham said that although he participated in a call two weeks ago with Johnson and eight other regional mayors, he was not fully informed of the measures announced last Sunday.

“On the eve of a new work week, PM was on television” actively encouraging “a return to work.

“Even if it would clearly put more cars on the roads and people on the trams, no one in government thought it important to tell the cities who should face this,” he said.

Burnham said lack of notice was not the only problem facing Greater Manchester.

“The surprisingly permissive package may well be suitable for the South East, given the decline in cases there. But my gut told me it was too early for the North, “he said.

“Certainly the abrupt abandonment of the clear message” staying at home “seemed premature. “

To avoid further divisions, he urged Johnson to appoint the mayor of West Midlands, Andy Street, to represent the English regions on the Cobra government’s civil contingency committee.

“If the government continues in the same vein, expect to see an even greater break in national unity. Different places will adopt their own messages and policies, “he said.

“The nervousness in the North about the R number will see more boards taking their own approach to schools, as do Liverpool, Gateshead and Hartlepool. Arguments will increase about funding.

“And if we don’t get the help we need, there is a second-line risk here which, in turn, will spread the infection to the country via the Midlands to London.”

The Prime Minister wrote in the Mail on Sunday that more complicated messages were needed during the next phase of the response and as the restrictions changed.

In his article, Johnson said changes to lock restrictions in England – such as unlimited outdoor exercise – were possible because of public “common sense”.

Referring to the confusion and criticism of the government’s new message urging people to “stay alert,” Johnson said the government was trying something that “never should have been done before.”


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