Tory MPs criticised by party for 'very ill-judged' letter to Andy Burnham

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaking to the media outside the Central Library in Mancheste

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaking to the media outside the Central Library in Manchester, he has threatened legal action if Tier 3 restrictions are imposed without agreement. - Credit: PA

The mayor of Manchester has criticised a “group of southern” Tory MPs who angered Conservative colleagues by calling for him to “engage” with the government’s lockdown measures to prevent further restrictions in their constituencies.

He said that the “we’re alright Jack” letter from 20 Conservatives whose areas are currently under the lowest form of coronavirus restriction would not “cut much ice here”.

The Labour mayor and Tory politicians in the region are opposing Tier 3 restrictions for Greater Manchester without greater financial support from the Treasury for workers and business.

Burnham has also joined Sir Keir Starmer in favouring a short national lockdown, arguing it would be fairer and would get his constituents’ greater support.

But the 20 Conservatives wrote an open letter to Mr Burnham and the Labour leader urging them to get the virus “under control” in Manchester to avoid the “pain” of a national lockdown.

Tory MPs, including some in Greater Manchester, criticised the letter as “unhelpful”.

And 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 Conservatives MPs is going to cut much ice here.

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“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.”

Led by Jerome Mayhew, the MP for Broadland in Norfolk, the letter highlighted the “disparity” between some of their areas having coronavirus rates currently far lower than Manchester’s.

“On behalf of our constituents, we feel compelled to write to you to ask you to engage with the Government’s regional approach to tackle the virus,” they added.

“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.

“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.”

Senior Conservative William Wragg, whose Hazel Grove constituency is in Greater Manchester, recommended his colleagues “concern themselves with their own constituencies”.

“I would not wish tighter restrictions on their constituents,” he said.

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

Christian Wakeford, the Tory MP for nearby Bury South, said politicians in the region were “united in opposing Tier 3 in its current form” in order to get the “best solution” for residents.

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

Jackie Doyle-Price, whose Essex constituency of Thurrock remains at the lowest level of restrictions, was also critical of the “badly done” letter.

“There is much collaboration across Greater Manchester to seek a workable solution,” she said. “It is very ill-judged to seek to make this issue partisan.”

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

Their letter echoed the words of Boris Johnson earlier this week as he continued to resist imposing a short national “circuit-breaker” lockdown, a measure suggested by the government’s scientific advisers.

“Closing businesses in Cornwall, where transmission is low, will not cut transmission in Manchester,” he said in a Downing Street press conference.

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