Michael Gove to hold 'urgent talks' over loosening of coronavirus restrictions at Christmas

Cabinet minister Michael Gove in Whitehall. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove in Whitehall. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.

Urgent talks are taking place between the leaders of the devolved administrations and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove as calls mount to scrap plans for an easing of Covid-19 restrictions over Christmas.

The move comes as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded an urgent review into the easing of rules after leading medical journals warned that a lessening of restrictions would “cost many lives”.

The planned five-day “Christmas window” would allow three households to mingle between December 23-27.

Labour leader Sir Keir urged Boris Johnson to call an emergency meeting of the government’s top level Cobra committee within 24 hours to assess the situation.

The move came as Downing Street said that advice to the public was being kept “under constant review”.

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Sir Keir’s intervention followed a rare joint editorial by the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal calling for the “rash” decision to relax social distancing measures over the festive period to be scrapped.

They said that the government “is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives”.

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In a letter to the prime minister, the Labour leader said the government had “lost control of infections”, stating: “I understand that people want to spend time with their families after this awful year, but the situation has clearly taken a turn for the worse since the decision about Christmas was taken.

“It serves no-one for politicians to ignore this fact.

“It is my view that you should now convene Cobra in the next 24 hours to review whether the current relaxation is appropriate given the rising number of cases.

“If you conclude with government scientists that we need to take tougher action to keep people safe over Christmas, then you will have my support.”

The Labour leader wrote: “This is a critical moment for our country. The tiered system has not kept the virus under control and has left us with precious little headroom. Put simply, if you take the wrong decision now, the ramifications for our NHS and our economy in the new year could be severe.”

In response to suggestions that the Christmas arrangements could be restricted to three days or two households, Downing Street again said the measures were being kept under “constant review”.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: “We have set out the guidance for the Christmas bubbling arrangements.

“But… we obviously keep all advice under constant review.”

Conservative former minister Mark Harper, who chairs the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory lockdown sceptics, suggested a parliamentary vote should be held if the government wants to change the restrictions.

Raising a point of order, Harper said: “There is much debate outside the House about the provisions for the Christmas period and the relaxation of the coronavirus regulations.

“Am I right in thinking, Madam Deputy Speaker, given the regulations governing Christmas were voted on explicitly by this House that if there were any proposal to change them then that decision should not be one just for ministers, but it should be brought back to this House for a vote to take place on it before Christmas?”

Deputy speaker Dame Rosie Winterton replied: “As I understand it, the ministers may well have the power to change the Christmas regulations without coming back to the House.

“They have taken that power. Obviously you’ve expressed a point of view that it would be desirable if they were to come back, but as I understand it they do have the power to vary them if they feel it is appropriate.”

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