Starmer urges PM to close all schools in England

Labour leader calls for return to ‘stay at home’ message of last March’s lockdown

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 04 January 2021 21:57
Keir Starmer calls for closure of all schools

Sir Keir Starmer has called on Boris Johnson to announce the closure of all schools in England as part of a national package of restrictions this evening.

The Labour leader last night called on Mr Johnson to announce a national lockdown within 24 hours, but declined to back calls from teaching unions for the reopening of schools to be delayed.

Speaking today hours ahead of a TV address by the prime minister to set out new coronavirus restrictions, Starmer said that it was now “tragically inevitable” that pupils would have to stay home.

In a round of broadcast interviews ahead of the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on Monday night, Sir Keir said a March-style lockdown was needed, with a tougher “stay-at-home” message.

And he said the government must vaccinate 2 million people a week this month, doubling to 4 million a week in February.

“The virus is out of control, everybody can see that,” Starmer told the BBC. “The tiered system clearly isn’t working.”

He said lockdown measures were needed as soon as possible to “get the virus back under control, protect the NHS - which is near breaking point this January - but critically to create a space for the rollout of the vaccine, and that needs to be mission-critical”.

The new lockdown needed to replicate the “spirit of March”, he said during a series of interviews in his Westminster office.

“You only need to go out on the streets now to see lots of people out and about, you see trains that are half-full,” said Sir Keir. “We need to go back to where we were in March with very, very strong messaging about staying at home.

“I’m afraid that the closure of schools is now inevitable and therefore that needs to be part of the national plan for further restrictions.”

The government’s “contract” with the public would be to ensure that the tough restrictions are used to make sure the vaccine programme is completed as quickly as possible, he said.

“We need to be the first country to complete the vaccination programme, that has to be the basic deal.”

Sir Keir suggested Scotland’s example of a legally enforceable stay-at-home order should not be ruled out.

“I’m not saying no to that, I’m saying what comes before that is the messaging and the decision by the government that that is the message – stay at home.

“That worked in March.”

He told ITV News that a wartime spirit was needed to deploy millions of doses of vaccines, including the government working with the opposition.

“This has to be a national mission,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest operations we have done since the Second World War, we all need to play our part.

“I have offered my support to the government, I do so again and I think the government should pull everybody into this because this is the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Sir Keir told Sky News that delaying the closure of schools could mean that pupils remained out of the classroom for longer.

“The longer we delay, the longer we are going to be in restrictions, the longer we will have to endure things like school closures,” he said.

Asked whether he backed Mr Johnson’s assessment that things will improve by Easter, Sir Keir said: “The problem with the prime minister’s predictions is they are nearly always wrong.

“Back in the summer he hoped to be back to normal by November, then it was Christmas, now it is Easter.

“The one thing that I know is that if you delay taking action, you prolong the agony.”

Sir Keir told 5 News school closures would have to be accompanied by “a plan for working parents who will be affected by that, it has to come with a plan for children so that they can learn at home and it has to come with a plan for how you get them back, reopened, as soon as possible”.

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