Boris Johnson will impose tighter coronavirus controls on Greater Manchester from Thursday night without the support of its local leaders, on a day of mounting tensions at the top of government.
The breakdown of relations between the prime minister and the biggest northern city region came against the backdrop of a stand-off with Brussels on Brexit trade talks and worsening relations with business.
Mr Johnson and Michael Gove, cabinet office minister, told 250 business leaders on a 20-minute call to step up preparations for the end of the transition period on December 31, insisting that even a “no trade deal” outcome would provide a “big opportunity”.
Mr Gove’s claim that Brexit was like moving to a new house — initially a hassle but ultimately worth it — was received “like a bucket of cold sick”, according to one participant. Another said it was “rehashed boosterism”. Mr Johnson said he would help business get ready for the change.
While Mr Johnson continued to put talks with Brussels on a Brexit trade deal on hold he was also unable to conclude a deal on new coronavirus measures with Greater Manchester Labour mayor Andy Burnham.
The region will be placed into the highest tier 3 restrictions at midnight on Thursday with £22m of support from the government. The sum is an automatic payment to support the area triggered by entering tier 3 restrictions.
Mr Johnson said talks were continuing with other areas facing similar conditions — West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and the North-East.
An offer of a further £60m had been made to Manchester just hours earlier but was rejected by Mr Burnham. After some initial confusion, Number 10 officials said the offer was still on the table if Mr Burnham agreed to take it.
“For the sake of fairness the deal has to be in line with agreements we’ve reached with Lancashire and Merseyside where we have made progress,” Mr Johnson said at a Downing Street press conference.
The tighter rules would require all pubs that cannot operate as restaurants to shut, along with betting shops, casinos, bingo halls, adult gaming centres and soft-play areas. They would stop households from mixing indoors or outside in hospitality venues.
The prime minister said he had no choice but to impose the “tough” restrictions on individuals and businesses in the city region. “Not to act would hurt Manchester’s NHS and put the lives of many Manchester residents at risk,” he said.
Mr Burnham accused the government of “brutal” tactics and “playing poker with people’s lives” at a press conference before the announcement.
He said it was a deliberate act of “levelling down” to refuse to commit to an 80 per cent job furlough scheme: chancellor Rishi Sunak argues his scheme, which supports 67 per cent of wages, was generous and could be topped up through universal credit.
The mayor called for parliament to intervene and “make a judgment on a fair financial framework on tier 3 lockdowns” given that other areas of the country would soon find themselves in that situation. Mr Burnham urged people to comply with the law.
Mr Burnham and the 10 leaders of Greater Manchester’s cities and boroughs asked for a further £75m to support affected businesses before dropping to £65m. But they said the government would offer no more than £60m and wanted to control how it would be spent.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised closed businesses in tier 3 areas grants of up to £3,000 a fortnight and their employees two-thirds of their salary.
Mr Burnham wanted to match the original March furlough scheme and to help businesses suffering knock-on effects of the closures, such as window cleaners and taxi drivers.
Two other areas that entered tier 3 last week, Liverpool city region and Lancashire, each got an extra £30m — beyond their automatic payments — which would equate to £56m for Greater Manchester given its population of 2.8m.
After spending more than £200bn on coronavirus so far, Mr Sunak wants to limit public spending as much as possible.
Property adviser Altus group said there were 1,809 pubs, 143 wine bars, 277 betting shops and 12 casinos in Greater Manchester. The total monthly grant for pubs and bars offered by the government would be £3.7m.
The tier levels will be reviewed every four weeks.
The Labour party said it would force a vote in the Commons on Wednesday on what it called a “fair one-nation deal” for communities going into the highest level of restrictions.
Keir Starmer, Labour leader, said the Conservatives had been treating local communities, particularly in the Midlands, north-west and north-east of England, and their leaders “with contempt”.
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