Ministers are wrong to lift all restrictions on “freedom day” and the government has now lost control of the virus, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has said, calling for an urgent rethink as cases spiral.
Around one in six areas in England are now reporting their highest rate of new Covid-19 cases since comparable records began last summer, when mass testing was first introduced in the UK.
In his strongest condemnation yet of the decision to press ahead with a full reopening on Monday, Starmer said Labour did not back the move, calling it “a reckless free-for-all”.
Blaming Boris Johnson’s “character” for the confusion, Starmer said: “Labour does not support the government’s plan. Lifting all restrictions at once is reckless – and doing so when the Johnson variant is already out of control risks a summer of chaos.
“We will always support jobs and livelihoods but Johnson’s recklessness risks plunging us back into restrictions again. The government has once again lost control of this virus and lost public trust in their messaging. They need to think again on their reckless plan, before it is too late.”
Starmer said there were still significant questions to answer over Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s U-turn over whether to take part in a testing pilot instead of self-isolating after being contacted by NHS test and trace.
“The Tories have got virtually every big decision wrong either in substance or timing or both,” Starmer said in the televised address on Monday.
“People have died. Tragically, more will do so. It is possible to forgive an unprecedented situation, if ministers’ hearts were in the right place and they were trying their best. But we have seen chaos, confusion and cronyism at the heart of this government.”
Starmer said explanations were still required after Johnson and Sunak pulled out of the testing trial amid a public outcry. Both had been contacted by test and trace after the health secretary, Sajid Javid, tested positive.
“The Tories’ instincts were revealed yet again: one rule for them, and another for everyone else,” he said. “The prime minister claims he ‘did look briefly at the idea’ of taking part in the pilot scheme. This rides a coach and horses through the claim that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak had been magically selected for this trial. And it is completely inconsistent with a Downing Street press release saying they were ‘participating’ in the pilot.”
No 10 has said Johnson travelled to his country retreat, Chequers, on Friday afternoon after meeting Javid, and would remain there for his isolation until 26 July.
“We know the prime minister likes to look for a loophole,” Starmer said. “We need to know when the prime minister was contacted and where he was.”
Starmer also called for the government to release a full list of Conservative ministers who have benefitted from the trial and avoided self-isolation.
“I call on the prime minister to join me in urging everyone, including his ministers and mates, to continue to follow the rules on self-isolation,” he said.
“The government urgently needs to change course, drop plans to lift all restrictions and rebuild public faith in the isolation system they have undermined at the same time.”