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New lockdown guidance gets widespread approval in Westminster

City AM logoCity AM 23/06/2020 Poppy Wood
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement today that the two metre social distancing will be scrapped in favour of new “one metre-plus” guidance from 4 July was met with widespread approval from Westminster, as the public prepares to revitalise the British economy after months of lockdown.

Business

Ministers welcomed the new guidance as providing a lifeline for businesses on the brink, which will now be able to reopen following months of closure.

Nickie Aicken, MP for Cities of London and Westminster, told City A.M: “The Prime Minister’s announcement is another positive step on the roadmap to reopen our economy. I’m delighted the two-metre rule is being cut to one metre. It will mean more bars, restaurants and cafes will be able to open next week whilst remaining safe.” 

Speaking in the commons, leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer voiced his support for the new guidance. “When I became Labour leader, I said I would support the government if it was doing the right thing…[and]  I think the government is trying to do the right thing,” Starmer said, adding that Labour will “of course scrutinise” the new guidelines.

However, he noted that the changes businesses will have to make to comply with new social distancing rules will be “complex” and costly, particularly for small firms. 

Tory MP Damian Green, the former deputy Prime Minister, praised Johnson for saving “hundreds of thousands of jobs” through his plan to halve the two-metre rule, but asked that all rules be set out in clear and concise detail. 

Conservative MP Gareth Johnson urged the country to go out and “do their patriotic best for Britain” by going to the pub and revitalising ailing hospitality businesses.

Employment

While many businesses were kept afloat by chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme, many MPs were quick to point out that the UK’s employment rate has taken a bruising during the pandemic.

UK jobless claims soared 70 per cent in the first month of lockdown, and many warned that more redundancies are on the horizon as the furlough scheme winds down.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan cautioned that despite the new guidance, many businesses will remain unable to reopen. He urged the chancellor to extend the furlough scheme in the poorest parts of London, saying: “Ministers must urgently extend the help on offer to avoid the looming unemployment crisis which will hit the most disadvantaged and BAME Londoners hardest.”

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan, on the other hand, called on the Prime Minister to “condemn firms abusing the furlough scheme”. Johnson assured that he would look at this issue, but that the furlough scheme has been a success. “There is nothing like it around the world”, he said.

Safety

MPs in the Commons supported the new guidance from a business perspective, but wanted to make sure easing the lockdown restrictions was safe for the country.

Richard Burgon, the Labour MP for Leeds East, accused Johnson of gambling with people’s lives by reducing the two metre social distancing rule. Johnson “just made this announcement to appease Tory MPs”, Burgon said.

Starmer asked the Prime Minister for assurance that Johnson had the support of scientific advisory group Sage. Johnson noted that both chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty had given the one metre-plus guidance the rubber stamp of approval at meetings last night, and that easing the lockdown would unlikely cause a second wave of infections.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, said keeping people safe should be the government’s top priority, despite the potential economic fallout. “The government has wasted time and money on a botched test and trace system,” he added. 

Aiken told City A.M: “We mustn’t be complacent and we must continue to be vigilant but there is definitely the right move at the right time.”

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The post New lockdown guidance gets widespread approval in Westminster appeared first on CityAM.


Video: PM Boris Johnson says there will be "flare-ups" of coronavirus, for which "local measures will be needed" (Wales Online)

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