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‘Neither wanted nor helpful’ - Norfolk MPs under fire over Manchester coronavirus lockdown letter

PUBLISHED: 10:35 18 October 2020 | UPDATED: 14:19 18 October 2020

Broadland Conservative MP Jerome Mayhew has also called for a meeting into the police investigation at the council. Picture: Danielle Booden

Broadland Conservative MP Jerome Mayhew has also called for a meeting into the police investigation at the council. Picture: Danielle Booden

Danielle Booden

Five of the county’s MPs are among 20 who have written to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham urging them not to push for a national lockdown - because it would harm Norfolk.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA WireGreater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

The Labour leader has called for a national ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to try to stem the spread of the virus, while Mr Burnham is at loggerheads with the government over the introduction of Tier 3 measures in Greater Manchester.

But MPs who have signed the letter, organised by Broadland MP Jerome Mayhew, say the government’s tiered local and regional restrictions are the right approach.

However, the letter has not gone down well with MPs representing constituencies in the Greater Manchester area, with one saying: “Interventions from fellow members who don’t understand the situation are neither wanted nor helpful.”

And Mr Burnham told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I’m not sure a sort of ‘we’re alright Jack’ letter from a group of southern Conservative MPs is going to cut much ice here.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Pic: Stefan Rousseau / PA ImagesLabour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Pic: Stefan Rousseau / PA Images

“I would say to them some of them represent constituencies whose cases were higher than ours when we went into national lockdown.

“Anywhere could end up in Tier 3 this winter. In fact, I would say places are likely to end up in Tier 3 this winter, therefore it’s everyone’s concern that we protect the lowest paid in our communities.”

Along with Mr Mayhew, the Norfolk Conservative MPs who have signed the letter are Duncan Baker (North Norfolk), Chloe Smith (Norwich North), James Wild (North West Norfolk) and George Freeman (Mid Norfolk).

They said: “On behalf of our constituents, we feel compelled to write to you to ask you to engage with the government’s regional approach to tackling the virus.

George Freeman MP. Picture: Ian BurtGeorge Freeman MP. Picture: Ian Burt

“We know you are calling for a national lockdown now, but would urge you to reconsider.”

The MPs say infection rates in counties, including Norfolk, are much lower than in the north of England.

And they said: “Given this disparity, it does not make sense to shut down the whole country when the virus is spiking in particular locations.

“Our constituents, like yours, have made many sacrifices to get - and keep - the virus under control in our areas.

Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North. Picture: Neil DidsburyChloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North. Picture: Neil Didsbury

“We are deeply worried about the prospect of having to go through the pain of another national lockdown.”

They said there would be “severe costs” of a national lockdown in areas of low transmission, including to tens of thousands of jobs in hospitality and leisure.

They said: “The devastating facts of the situation are that under either course of action, businesses would close in Manchester, whereas a regional approach offers some protection to businesses in areas of low prevalence.”

The letter continued: “it is very clear to us - and the people we represent - that the local and regional approach is the right response to the current situation.

James Wild and Duncan Baker,  MPs for North West Norfolk and North Norfolk, respectively. Picture: ArchantJames Wild and Duncan Baker, MPs for North West Norfolk and North Norfolk, respectively. Picture: Archant

“We urge you to work with the government to get the virus under control in Greater Manchester, so we can all avoid the pain of another national lockdown.”

However, the plea was not well received by fellow Conservative MPs representing areas in northern England.

Chris Green, who represents Bolton West and Atherton and recently resigned as a ministerial aide over the government’s approach to coronavirus restrictions, tweeted: “I have never thought that the affairs of Norfolk should be determined by what may be of benefit to parts of Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire.

“Science matters but this No.10 approved communication does not.”

And William Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove, wrote: “May I politely ask that colleagues concern themselves with their own constituencies.

“I would not wish tighter restrictions on their constituents.

“We’re willing to work constructively to improve the situation in Greater Manchester and would ask for the short time and space to do so.”

Christian Wakeford, MP for Bury South, said: “Since Thursday we’ve been united in opposing tier 3 in its current form and delivering the best solution for all residents, families and businesses across GM.

“Interventions from fellow members who don’t understand the situation are neither wanted nor helpful.”

Political leaders in Greater Manchester say the government needs to promise greater financial support if the area is to be placed under the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.

Other signatories of the letter included Ashford MP Damian Green, Yeovil’s Marcus Fysh and North Cornwall’s Scott Mann.

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