In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the Labor leader launched a scathing attack on the Prime Minister, accusing him of having “winged” him about the loosening of the lock and aggravating an “already difficult situation 10 times worst”.
He also wondered whether the timing of certain decisions about relaxing the lockdown rules had been made “to try to divert attention” from the Dominic Cummings case – an episode, he said, which showed that Johnson was too weak to fire his senior advisor.
In a significant tightening of his language, Starmer said that Johnson must “master” the crisis.
” My [worry] is that after a week or more of mismanagement, I am deeply concerned that the government has made the situation difficult 10 times worse, “he said.
“We called for an exit strategy. What we seem to have is an exit without strategy. We want to see society reopen, we want to see more children in school, of course people want to see their families and we want to see open businesses.
“But like many people across the country, the government is increasingly afraid of having it stolen. At the very moment when there should have been maximum confidence in the government, confidence has collapsed, “he said.
Starmer attributed the fall in public confidence to “the Cummings factor, the sense of a rule for them and a rule for everyone” – a reference to the fury provoked when the Guardian revealed that the senior adviser to Johnson had broken the lock.
But he also cited “mismanagement” in the government’s sudden decision to lift armor restrictions for 2.2 million people without notice to public health directors or general practitioners, and concerns about the health care system. test and follow-up which, according to the advice, will not be ready until the end of the month at the earliest.
In addition, the Labor leader said that the decision to reopen schools without having consulted unions, teachers and parents enough had failed.
“I want to warn the Prime Minister that he must take control and restore public confidence in the management of the epidemic by the government … If we see a sharp increase in the rate of R, the rate of infection or a wave of local closings, the blame lies squarely on the door of No. 10. We all know that the public has made enormous sacrifices. This mismanagement in recent weeks is the responsibility of the government. “
Starmer’s intervention comes on another difficult day for the government, as it emerged that:
Speaking from his parliamentary offices, the Labor leader said he would continue to engage in constructive dialogue with the government, defending his approach of not criticizing for himself.
However, he said he had become increasingly concerned about the mistakes made by the Johnson administration last week.
Regarding Johnson’s management of the Cummings’ fury, Starmer said that Johnson’s plans to ease the restrictions had been presented while the government was in the throes of a crisis.
Last Thursday, Johnson was under pressure to fire Cummings over revelations he had taken from London to his parents in Durham during the height of the lockdown – then took a 60-mile round trip to a place of beauty to test his view.
“They obviously made the decision to try to divert attention from the Cummings case,” said Starmer. “There are questions the government must answer about the precise timetable for the measures it has put in place.”
“It is blindly obvious to me that the Prime Minister is just too weak to dismiss [Cummings]. “
He added that this “loss of confidence and trust” was “the most troubling aspect of the whole Cummings case.”
“If you said what week the government needed maximum confidence, the answer is the week you start to loosen the restrictions … This is where you need maximum confidence and of confidence. This is what the government has burned in recent weeks, “he said.
Labor leader said he would now request more meetings with Johnson, cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty to address concerns about mismanagement in recent weeks .
He also revealed that he wrote a “private and confidential” letter to the Prime Minister two weeks ago proposing to work together constructively to reach consensus on the reopening of schools, but Johnson has yet to respond.