Labour leader Keir Starmer has stepped up his attacks on Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic and accused his government of “serial incompetence”.
Mr Starmer used his “virtual” party conference speech this week to launch a stinging attack on the British Prime Minister’s performance during the coronavirus crisis, telling supporters the Conservative Party leader was “just not up to the job”.
But the former director of public prosecutions went further during a round of interviews with broadcasters on Wednesday, laying the blame at Mr Johnson’s door for the high death rate Covid-19 has inflicted on the country.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “I don’t think he has led us well during this pandemic and I’m not alone in that.
“I think the vast majority of people think that he hasn’t.
“We have got one of the highest death rates in the world and we are heading, on current forecasts, for one of the deepest recessions.
“Our country is better than that.”
Mr Starmer highlighted the number of times the government has been pressured into changing its policies in recent months.
Examples of U-turns by Mr Johnson’s administration include agreeing to implement a school meals voucher scheme after a campaign by England footballer Marcus Rashford and a decision to scrap making its own NHS Covid tracing app.
“I’m quite prepared to accept that a government will make mistakes in a pandemic like this and one or two U-turns is probably a sign of a government listening and then changing,” said Mr Starmer.
“But when you have got 12 in a row, the only conclusion is serial incompetence.”
The Opposition leader, who has been in the job since April, however refused to criticise fresh restrictions brought in this week by Mr Johnson, who was admitted to hospital with coronavirus in the spring, in a bid to slow the second wave of Covid-19 infections.
Scientists, including members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), have said the 10pm curfew for pubs in England, along with increased wearing of face coverings, were not enough to quell the virus.
But Mr Starmer said Labour was supporting the government measures as a “matter of principle”.
He told ITV: “We have supported the government because I think when it comes to things like restrictions, communication is absolutely key.
“And therefore I think it is right that there is one communication coming out on a cross-party basis.”
The ex-shadow Brexit secretary also called for a “plan B” on the furlough scheme, which is due to be wound up next month despite ministers placing new restrictions on the hospitality sector.
His comments come as Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed he would update MPs on plans “to continue protecting jobs” on Thursday amid reports the Treasury is preparing to deploy the German model of subsiding wages for staff who cannot go back to work full time.
Mr Starmer said: “There has got to be a plan B now that we are in this different scenario where we have got more restrictions, possibly going on for six months, and that plan B is to answer the question: how do you support those businesses and sectors affected by those new rules so they can survive through how ever many months it is?”