Keir Starmer roasts Johnson for ignoring scientists' lockdown advice for WEEKS

Boris Johnson was today roasted by Keir Starmer for wasting weeks refusing to lock down England while the death toll spiralled - before performing an embarrassing U-turn.

In a statement to the Commons, the PM insisted cases were now surging so high there was 'no alternative' to the month-long blanket restrictions across England.

He warned that otherwise the death toll could be double that in the previous peak. 

But he tried to soothe a growing mutiny by reassuring the House that the measures will legally end on December 2 - and if they need to be extended there will be another vote. 

He also declared that grants for the self-employed will be ramped up from 40 per cent of average previous profits to 80 per cent, although it is not clear whether that will be just for the during of the squeeze.

However, Sir Keir launched an excoriating attack on Mr Johnson for his 'failure' to introduce the crackdown quickly enough. 

He said the premier had wasted 40 days when his own scientific experts were urging a 'circuit breaker' - during which time daily deaths had soared from just 11 to 326. 

'On September 21 when the Government's scientists Sage recommended an urgent two to three-week circuit break there were 11 deaths from Covid-19 and just over 4,000 Covid infections,' Sir Keir said.

'For 40 days the Prime Minister ignored that advice and when he finally announced a longer and deeper national lockdown on Saturday those figures had increased to 326 deaths a day and 22,000 Covid cases.

'That is the human cost of the Government's inaction. The reality is that the two pillars of the Prime Minister's strategy, the £12 billion Track and Trace and regional restrictions have not only failed to stop the second wave, they've been swept away by it.

'At every stage, the Prime Minister has been too slow, behind the curve. At every stage, he has pushed away challenge, ignored advice and put what he hoped would happen above what is happening.

'At every stage, he's over-promised and under-delivered. Rejecting the advice of his own scientists over 40 days was a catastrophic failure of leadership and of judgment.'

The intervention came as Mr Johnson faces the wrath of Conservative MPs enraged by the 'evil' new rules. 

They have been branded 'unimaginable' and compared to the actions of a 'totalitarian regime.

A crunch vote is due on the lockdown plan on Wednesday, with dozens of Tories threatening to oppose them. 

There is little danger of the restrictions being struck out, but Mr Johnson could be left humiliatingly relying on the support of Labour in order to carry the day. 

Before the statement, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle laid into government leaks that prevented the news being announced to Parliament first. He insisted that the culprit must be identified and if it is an MP they must make a personal apology to the House. 

Scientists and Cabinet 'Doves' have been accused of an extraordinary choreography to force Mr Johnson into the draconian lockdown - amid warnings it could devastate the economy. 

On another chaotic day as the UK wrestles with the worst public health crisis in a generation: 

Shares in retail and leisure firms have plummeted as the stock market reacted to Mr Johnson's hastily released plans;  Mr Sunak has revealed that support for the self-employed is set to be boosted along with furlough, which has been extended for the duration of the national lockdown; Wales has insisted that its 'firebreak' lockdown will end on November 9 despite the move in England, as the divisions within the UK widened alarmingly; There are complaints that a model suggesting 4,000 people a day could be dying from coronavirus by next month could be four or five times too high and is already out of date;  SAGE experts have claimed thousands of lives could have been saved if the government had moved to lock down earlier.

Boris Johnson today begged Tories to keep faith in his coronavirus strategy as he defended his plan to plunge England into a fresh national lockdown

Keir Starmer

In the Commons today, Boris Johnson was roasted by Keir Starmer for wasting weeks refusing to lock down England while the death toll spiralled - before performing an embarrassing U-turn

MPs are furious about a concerted effort to 'bounce' the PM into imposing the swingeing restrictions in England from December 2, as it was revealed that science chief Sir Patrick Vallance gave a blood-curdling briefing to reporters on Friday underlining SAGE's demands for an immediate lockdown - alongside figures suggesting more than 85,000 people could die this winter.

The bombshell assessment came an hour before the powerful 'quad' of the PM, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Rishi Sunak met around 3.30pm to discuss the move.

Sir Patrick told stunned reporters that it was too late for a two-week circuit breaker, and a four-week lockdown similar to that introduced in France was the best way to control the R number. Those in the briefing were left in little doubt that a national squeeze was coming. 

In fact Mr Johnson had still been wavering on the issue that morning, when Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was sent out to defend the local 'Tiers' system on the airwaves. The premier even 'argued against himself' about whether the damage from lockdown would be worse than the disease during the 'Quad' meeting.

But, confronted with Sir Patrick and Chris Whitty's dire predictions he set the wheels in motion on a month-long lockdown. 

Within hours the tentative decision taken by the elite group was leaked to the Daily Mail and Times - before the full Cabinet had been informed - in an apparent effort to prevent the PM changing his mind. 

Timeline of the PM's lockdown decision 

Friday, 7am: Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab begins a round of broadcast interviews defending the government's 'Tiered' system of local lockdowns.  

Friday 2.30pm: Sir Patrick Vallance underlines SAGE's call for a national lockdown at a briefing with reporters, saying it is 'not too late to save Christmas'.

Friday 3pm: Papers are released online from a SAGE meeting which show that advisers warned ministers on October 14 that the UK could be headed for a situation more serious than the scientists' 'worst case scenario'.   

Friday 3.30pm: The Covid 'Quad' committee, which has taken all the key strategic decisions during the pandemic, met in the Cabinet Office. Mr Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock and Michael Gove attended along with around 15 officials.

Early evening : Downing Street is informed that ITV political editor Robert Peston has received a 'read-out of the whole meeting', according to the Times. 

10.30pm: No10's plans to shut-down England for at least a month have also been leaked to the Daily Mail and are revealed when the first edition of Saturday's paper drops. 

Saturday 7am: BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg reveals some of the information shown to the quad involves daily deaths could top 4,000.

11am: Boris Johnson calls an unscheduled Cabinet briefing to update furious ministers on his plans. With just hours to go he also calls a hastily arranged live television press conference for 4pm to brief the nation about his plans.

Downing Street, which had hoped to make the announcement on Monday, launches an investigation to find the source. 

1.30pm: Cabinet meets virtually, with the PM dialling in from Downing Street. It lasts more than an hour

3:40pm: Broadcasters are briefed a summary of the measures Mr Johnson will be announcing at the press conference, following the Cabinet meeting.

6:45pm: Boris Johnson, flanked by chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick, finally fronts the delayed press conference and unveil the lockdown. 

Advertisement

By Saturday morning the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg was giving details of two key documents that were shown to the 'quad', a controversial prediction that the daily death toll would hit 4,000 a day and that NHS hospitals would be overwhelmed. 

There has since been criticism that the 4,000 a day projection was already out of date. It was produced by experts from the University of Cambridge and Public Health England who have since revised their numbers and lowered the possible numbers of deaths. 

Nevertheless, both slides formed a key part of the data finally officially presented on Saturday night, when a livid Mr Johnson brought forward his announcement after a call with his clueless wider Cabinet.

A formal leak inquiry has now been launched to find the culprit - with claims that just 15 people, including Sir Patrick, chief medical officer Chris Whitty and NHS England head Sir Simon Stevens were in the meeting.

There have even been dark threats that the police could be called in to find who undermined the PM's approach. 

Fingers have been pointed at Mr Gove and Mr Hancock, both of whom deny being the source. Downing Street insists it was not in its interests for the information to go public at that stage.

A former Cabinet minister told MailOnline that the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring over the lockdown was 'very odd'.

They suggested that the intervention from Sir Patrick was part of an effort to 'bounce' the PM. 'It does sound like a bounce. If he was briefing people in advance he was obviously trying to build up a head of steam behind the notion of a lockdown,' they said.

The Tory MP suggested the events had the hallmarks of a 'Gove-Cummings' operation - a reference to the fact that the PM's chief adviser used to work for the Cabinet Office minister. 'I don't think there is any doubt about that. Gove has already proven that he doesn't feel a great deal of loyalty to the PM,' the MP said.

'I was always astounded Boris brought him in again. Presumably it was part of the package with Cummings.

'It's the Gove-Cummings axis that is the problem here.'

The MP said the figures being used to support the lockdown move, including claims that deaths could hit 4,000 a day, were questionable

'The figures don't appear to have been updated to reflect the true state of affairs,' they said.

A government source told the Telegraph that Mr Johnson had not made a final decision by the end of the Quad meeting, and Mr Sunak was working on 'softening the impact and trying to keep it focused on the regional approach'.

The source added: 'When it was leaked it became a done deal and forced the Prime Minister to take action.'  

In another tumultuous day of coronavirus developments:

Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street today) announced at a press conference on Saturday night that England is being plunged into another lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus

Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street today) announced at a press conference on Saturday night that England is being plunged into another lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus

Ministers warn 'all bets are off' on Christmas unless lockdown works 

Cabinet ministers have warned 'all bets are off' on families being able to celebrate Christmas together if Boris Johnson's national lockdown fails to curb coronavirus infection rates.

The Prime Minister's England-wide shutdown is due to start on Thursday and the Government's aim is to lift the blanket restrictions on December 2.

However, the Government has failed to guarantee that will be a firm exit date amid fears the shutdown could be extended over the festive period and even into the new year.

Ministers believe the 'lag' between the point of infection and the point at which people can become seriously ill could mean that the death figures are still surging even by the end of the lockdown.

That could fuel calls for the draconian measures to be kept in place until the start of 2021 or beyond. 

Advertisement

Mr Johnson moved to reassure MPs that he will 'seek to ease' curbs and return to the localised tiered system on December 2, following suggestions from Mr Gove yesterday the lockdown could be extended again.

Mr Sunak tried to soothe angry Tory backbenchers this morning insisting the lockdown measures will be legally ended on the date.

He said the 'hope and expectation' was that the virus would be at a low enough level by then to ease the curbs, although he admitted they will be kept under review.

However, government sources have been warning that lockdown could stretch well into next month if hospitalisations remain high and that 'all bets are off' for Christmas.

Sir Keir Starmer has said Labour will vote with the Government, meaning the lockdown will likely sail through the Commons. 

But the PM has come under fire from his own side and will face stiff opposition from hawkish Tory backbenchers gearing up to rebel against the measures.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 committee, led the backlash of MPs, telling the BBC's Westminster Hour last night: 'I think the aspect of the lockdown restrictions that actually bother me most would be the extent of intrusion in what ordinarily we see as fundamental human rights; the freedom of association, the right to family life, we even now have the Government telling us who we can sleep with or not depending on if they're deemed to be in an established relationship. 

'If these kinds of measures were being taken in any totalitarian country around the world we would be denouncing it as a form of evil. And here the removal of people's fundamental liberties is going almost without comment.'   

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 committee, led the Tory backlash warning that the government curbs on civil liberties were 'evil'

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 committee, led the Tory backlash warning that the government curbs on civil liberties were 'evil' 

Questions over dossier prediction of 4,000 deaths per day 

The 4,000 deaths per day scenario was based on the assumption that there would be 1,000 per day by the start of November. Real numbers of people dying are significantly lower, with an average 182 per day in England and 162 confirmed yesterday for the whole UK

The 4,000 deaths per day scenario was based on the assumption that there would be 1,000 per day by the start of November. Real numbers of people dying are significantly lower, with an average 182 per day in England and 162 confirmed yesterday for the whole UK

The claim that 4,000 people could be dying from coronavirus by next month could be four or five times too high and not reflect the current situation, experts warn.

The shocking figure was presented by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance in Saturday's TV briefing where Boris Johnson announced the UK's second lockdown.

But there are concerns that it's out of date and inaccurate, with SAGE accused of 'misleading' the public and MPs by cherry-picking the scariest data.

Professor Carl Heneghan, of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said he 'cannot understand why they have used this data'.

The forecast could be four or five times too high, he said, because it is based on there being an average 1,000 deaths per day in the UK right now. In reality the daily average was 182 per day October 22 and 28, according to Department of Health data.

The number, which appeared as the worst case on a graph with three other possible scenarios, was created by statisticians at the University of Cambridge and Public Health England who have since revised their numbers and lowered the possible numbers of deaths. The team's forecasts are not published online, like some of their other work, but are sent directly to SPI-M, a sub-group of SAGE, to do with it what they choose.

A potential 4,000 fatalities per day if there are no changes to restrictions was almost twice as high as the second worst case, which put them at a touch higher than 2,000 per day.

The lowest estimates in the no-action scenario estimated deaths at just below 2,000 per day, and all were higher than the peak in the first wave, when the most deaths were recorded on April 8 (1,073).  

Advertisement

Tory ex-minister Sir Desmond Swayne said it would take a 'huge amount of persuasion for me to vote for this disastrous course of action'.

Former Cabinet minister Esther McVey said she would vote against them because the ''lockdown cure' is causing more harm than Covid'. 

Backbencher Peter Bone told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning he had not yet decided how to vote on the measures outlined by Prime Minister Boris Johnson when they are debated in the Commons on Wednesday.

Hitting out at 'unreadable graphs' at the press conference, Mr Bone said: 'At the moment, I have not been convinced that I should vote on Wednesday with the Government. 

Some of those on the backbenches were even calling for Mr Johnson to go. He's on borrowed time, totally inept,' one source told The Times.

'I think it could be his Suez,' a former cabinet minister told the paper, in a reference to the 1950s crisis that led to Anthony Eden's resignation.

A minister told the paper: 'He's been overrun by the virus and by his 'advisers.' They are nasty, they misunderstand the parliamentary party, and above all are totally, totally sh*t. Over the last week — with the row over free school meals and this — I think we've lost the next election.' 

The row over the leaks from the 'Quad' has become so serious that No10 is threatening to call in the police.

One Cabinet source told the Telegraph: 'They are going studs up on the leak. They will do everything possible. 'If they have to bring the police into this they will do that. That is the level of seriousness this is being treated at. 

'The sentiment – particularly among Cabinet ministers – is that when they find the leaker they should be absolutely punished. You can imagine how the Chief Whip feels.' 

Sources insisted Sir Patrick's briefing came at a normal off the record discussion with journalists. 

Meanwhile, it has been announced that Sir Patrick and Prof Whitty are due to be grilled by the Commons Science Committee tomorrow about the new restrictions. 

Mr Johnson announced the second lockdown - which will begin on Thursday following the Commons vote the day before - during a Downing Street press conference on Saturday night.

A worst case prediction of as many as 4,000 deaths a day by Christmas without action being taken was the final straw for a Prime Minister who had previously ruled out such a move as his 'nuclear deterrent'.

Pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops will be forced to close, although, unlike the first lockdown in March, schools will remain open.

Addressing MPs in the House of Commons this afternoon, he is expected to say: 'Models of our scientists suggest that unless we act now, we could see deaths over the winter that are twice as bad or more compared with the first wave.

'Faced with these latest figures, there is no alternative but to take further action at a national level.

'I know some in the House believe we should have reached this decision earlier, but I believe it was right to try every possible option to get this virus under control at a local level, with strong local action and strong local leadership.'

The Prime Minister will, however, stop short of guaranteeing that the national lockdown will end on December 2 as proposed.

PM begs Tory MPs to trust him over lockdown plan 

Boris Johnson will today beg mutinous Tory MPs to keep the faith in his coronavirus strategy by warning deaths this winter could be double the first wave unless they back his blanket lockdown. 

The Prime Minister will use a statement to the Commons this afternoon to say there is 'no alternative' about imposing four weeks of draconian curbs across England to wrestle down the resurgent virus.      

Mr Johnson will move to reassure MPs that he will 'seek to ease' the crackdown on December 2 and return to the localised tiered system, despite suggestions from Michael Gove yesterday the time could be extended beyond Christmas.

Rishi Sunak tried to soothe angry Tory backbenchers this morning by insisting the measures will be legally ended on the date.

He said the 'hope and expectation' was that the virus would be at a low enough level by then, although he admitted they will be kept under review.

However Cabinet ministers are privately warning that lockdown could stretch well into next month if hospitalisations remain high and that 'all bets are off' for Christmas.

Sir Keir Starmer has said Labour will vote with the Government, meaning the lockdown will likely sail through the Commons. 

But hawkish Tory backbenchers are gearing up for a damaging revolt, warning that the limits on freedoms are like in a 'totalitarian state'.

Advertisement

Mr Johnson will say: 'At the end of four weeks, on Wednesday 2 December, we will seek to ease restrictions, going back into the tiered system on a local and regional basis according to the latest data and trends.'

But a Whitehall source said: 'The next three or four months are going to be very tough.

'Hopefully we can ease things up a bit after a month, but that isn't certain and we are still going to have to keep our foot on the brake to a certain extent.

'So far, Tier Three is the only thing short of lockdown shown to have worked at all. It is reducing the R-rate - only very slowly, and the rate is still above one - but it does work to stop things getting worse.

'With Tier Two, it is much harder to say it is working. Maybe it would if compliance was better, but so far it is not reducing the R-rate - it is not a solution.'

Mr Sunak is regarded as the leading Cabinet hawk on the need to keep the economy running, and has been forced to deny claims that he threatened to resign. 

But speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Sunak said when medical and science experts briefed senior ministers last week it was clear the only 'responsible' course was to impose a national lockdown. 

'What's clear is that the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worse case of our scientific advisers,' he said.

'And the models suggested that, unless we acted, we would see deaths in this country running at levels in excess of where they were in the spring – a peak of mortality far higher,' the Chancellor said.

'And we saw incidents, even in areas where it's currently low, rising at a very rapid rate, which would mean that, in a matter of weeks, the NHS would be overwhelmed.'

Mr Sunak gave a stark warning that unemployment is set to rise due to the clampdown. 

'Close to three-quarters of a million people have already tragically lost their jobs and sadly many more will,' he said. 

'That is going to happen as a result of the restrictions we are putting in place' 

Mr Suank tried to reassure angry Tory backbenchers by insisting the lockdown measures will be legally ended on December 2.

He said the 'hope and expectation' was that the virus would be at a low enough level by then to ease the curbs, although he admitted they will be kept under review.

Pressed on whether the R rate was key to restrictions being lifted on that date, Rishi Sunak said: 'It would be wrong to say there was one single indicator.

'There is a range of different things we

read more from dailymail.....

NEXT Richmond Tigers AFL star Marlion Pickett opens up in book Belief on troubled ...