Downing Street’s Tense Standoff with Andy Burnham Over Covid Restrictions

credit: telegraph

London (Parliament Politics Magazine) –  WhatsApp messages reveal tensions between Downing Street and Andy Burnham during a Covid restriction dispute, showing frustration and disagreements.

During a controversy over Covid restrictions, WhatsApp messages have disclosed Downing Street considered the Government was being “held to ransom” by Andy Burnham. Evidence publicized by the Covid Inquiry indicates that Liam Booth-Smith, now the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, complained that “there is no winning these people over” during a quarrel with the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Mr. Burnham became mired in a public dispute with the Government in October 2020 as it inflicted the strictest local lockdown rules on Greater Manchester.

The former Labour health secretary described the inquiry as a penalty; he believed the area was placed under the most rigid restrictions following an argument with ministers over financial support for locals who could not work.

As the Government desired to implement Tier 3, including the closure of pubs and bars, Mr. Burnham was locked in discussions with ministers and expressed local leaders were “fighting back” against restrictions they saw as “flawed and unfair.” He desired the Government to pledge more help for workers and businesses affected by the move.

Tier 3 was finally announced on Oct 20, 2020, without agreement on a help package for businesses and low-paid workers after a 10-day standoff.

Messages from Mr Booth-Smith, then a special adviser to Mr. Sunak, who was Chancellor, indicated he and Number 10 advisers were furious at the row with the mayor. In a WhatsApp group, Mr Booth-Smith wrote: “There is no winning these people over. Please, for the love of god, can we realize that we need to figure out our reasonable position and f——- impose?

“I’ve seen some s—shows in the last year, but these negotiations rank among the worst in politics and execution. We’re being held to ransom by Manchester.”

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, responded there was no point in negotiating with Mr. Burnham.

He noted: “I made this argument earlier in the political argument – negotiating with Burnham is pointless; it actively helps him and undermines confidence in us.”

Surrounding Lancashire had earlier been put into the strictest local lockdown, and Jack Doyle, Mr. Johnson’s press secretary, questioned when support measures for the county would be announced since the Government was “going to war” with Mr. Burnham.

“Is this £30 million for Lancs going to happen today? Helpful to know, given we’re going to war with Burnham at 5 pm.”

Messages from other administration officials from the same day revealed further frustrations with local administrations as restrictions were announced.

Read More: Andy Burnham’s Bee Network: Greater Manchester’s Public Transport Revolution

Kate Josephs, then director general of the Covid task force, reported: “A few districts with mental Labour leaders are holding out. I’ve told them that we may have to go for harsher restrictions if they don’t get all the money off the table. They have until 8 am tomorrow, and then we give up.” An official called Henry replied, “Agh” before Ms. Josephs added: “This is a f——- stupid strategy.”

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.