Government must publish exit strategy this week – Starmer

Labour leader Keir Starmer has urged the Government to publish its exit strategy this week, as he warns that the “silent pressures on families and communities across the country cannot be underestimated”.

In a letter to the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Starmer announces that Labour will support the Government’s decision to extend the lockdown, which is expected later this week, but calls for the Government to publish clear plans and a strategy to ease restrictions when possible.

He says: “The question for Thursday therefore is no longer about whether the lockdown should be extended, but about what the Government’s position is on how and when it can be eased in due course and on what criteria that decision will be taken.”

He adds: “We agree the measures need to remain in place, but to maintain morale and hope, people need a sense of what comes next. The silent pressures on communities across the country cannot be underestimated.”

Starmer has urged the Foreign Secretary to commit to the following on Thursday:

  • Setting out the criteria the Government will be using to inform how and when it intends to ease the lockdown measures.
  • Publishing the Government’s exit strategy now or in the coming week.
  • Outlining the sectors of the economy and the core public services (e.g. schools) that will most likely see restrictions eased, with an accompanying plan to support people’s lives and livelihoods.

Full text of the letter:

Dear Dominic,

Government’s exit strategy from lockdown

While the Prime Minister is recuperating, I am writing to you in your capacity as First Secretary of State.

First of all, would you please pass on my best wishes to the Prime Minister on his recovery when you next speak to him. I agreed wholeheartedly with his praise for the job the doctors, nurses and other NHS staff have done in caring for him and so many others during this outbreak. They have been a credit to the country.

As I have said before, under my leadership, the Labour Party’s intention is to work constructively with the Government on managing this crisis and helping to protect people’s lives and livelihoods. It is clear that the Government intends to extend the lockdown when the review date comes this Thursday. I can confirm today that we will support this decision, as we supported the introduction of the lockdown in March.

The question for Thursday therefore is no longer about whether the lockdown should be extended, but about what the Government’s position is on how and when it can be eased in due course and on what criteria that decision will be taken.

Ministers have argued that now is not the time to talk about this. I profoundly disagree. Overcoming this crisis requires taking the British public with you. Millions of people have played their part and exceeded Government assumptions about their willingness to make sacrifices and to stay at home in the national interest. In return, the Government needs to be open and transparent with the public about how it believes the lockdown will ease and eventually end, how this decision will be informed and what measures are being put in place to plan for this eventuality.

We agree the measures need to remain in place, but to maintain morale and hope, people need a sense of what comes next. The silent pressures on communities across the country cannot be underestimated. Many will be struggling with their mental health as well as other health conditions that may not receive the attention they normally would without the virus. For some it will be heightened concerns about their jobs or how they will make ends meet. For others the challenge will be loneliness and separation from loved ones, illness or losing someone to this terrible disease.

This lockdown is not affecting people equally. In fact, it has exacerbated existing inequalities in our country. A family living in an overcrowded flat will have particular challenges. And it is hard to imagine the daily horror of someone trapped in a home with his or her abuser. The Government has a duty to do what it can to alleviate these pressures on people.

I am therefore writing to urge that on Thursday you commit to the following:

  • Setting out clearly the criteria the Government will be using to inform how and when it intends to ease the lockdown measures.
  • Publishing the Government’s exit strategy now or in the coming week, so that when Parliament has returned from the Easter recess it can be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny.
  • Outlining the sectors of the economy and the core public services (e.g. schools) that you consider most likely to see restrictions eased. This should be accompanied by a clear plan to protect workers and family members as well an assessment of the impact such measures will have on the economy and existing government support schemes.

Any exit strategy will only be effective if the Government puts the necessary planning, investment and infrastructure in place early. We would be keen to discuss this with the Government at the earliest opportunity. Whatever the preferred option, it seems obvious to us testing and contact tracing will have to play a huge part. Given the difficulties the Government is experiencing now ramping up to its 25,000 tests per day by mid-April, it shows why planning is needed. Or on the question of a vaccine, if this is the Government’s priority, it must start preparation now to put in place a comprehensive national vaccine programme. We cannot repeat mistakes that have already been made on testing and access to protective equipment.

I understand that there is a lot of scientific advice, analysis and forecasting on the coronavirus. However, it is political decisions by ministers that will determine what happens next. At a time of national crisis, it is more important than ever that those decisions are taken swiftly and transparently. I hope you will give this request serious consideration and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss it with you further.

I am making a copy of this available to the public.

Yours sincerely,

Keir Starmer MP
Leader of the Labour Party

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