Labour’s leader claimed the Government had cost costing thousands of lives by rejecting the advice of the Sage scientific group to hold a “circuit breaker” shutdown to slow the virus.
In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry he said there had been just 11 deaths on September 21 when Sage made the call – but 326 deaths on Saturday when Mr Johnson hastily announced a longer, four-week lockdown.
“That is the human cost of the Government’s inaction,” said Sir Keir. “And the impact on business – and jobs – will be severe.”
The Labour leader went out of his way to point the finger of blame at Mr Sunak, the likely successor to Mr Johnson, saying he personally resisted the circuit breaker. “Make no mistake, the Chancellor’s name’s all over this. His decision to block a circuit breaker … will now mean that businesses have to close for longer. More people will lose their job. And the public finances will be worse than they needed to be.”
Sir Keir had backed the circuit breaker idea, and clashed several times in the Commons with Mr Johnson over it. “One of the things I’ve learnt from this crisis is that it exposes leadership and character like nothing else,” he told the CBI.
“On both counts the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have failed. They failed to learn. They failed to listen. And they failed to lead.
“The result is tragic – but all too predictable.”
Mr Johnson had been due to address the CBI as well but pulled out to prepare a landmark Commons statement this afternoon announcing the lockdown until December 2.
In a blow to the Prime Minister, a senior medical expert said the Government’s refusal to stage a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown in September had led to more deaths and greater damage to the economy.
“I think if we had chosen a two-week circuit-break at that time we would definitely have saved thousands of lives,” said Prof Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, and a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) advisory committee.
“And, we would clearly have inflicted substantially less damage on our economy than the proposed four-week lockdown will do.”
The Chancellor confirmed in a BBC interview that the lockdown could not be extended beyond December 2 without a fresh Commons vote.
In other olive branches to rebel MPs, he said financial support for the self-employed would rise above the current 40 per cent level.
Defending the need for lockdown, he told Today: “What’s clear is that the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worse case of our scientific advisers.
“And the models suggested that, unless we acted, we would see deaths in this country running at levels in excess of where they were in the spring – a peak of mortality far higher.”
Mr Johnson was also under pressure from his own party, with many Conservative MPs privately aghast at the muddled way the new measures were hastily announced on Saturday night after a leak. Right wingers threatened a rebellion in the Commons when MPs votes on the new four-week lockdown later this week.
Wellingborough MP Peter Bone said he may vote against lockdown. “At the moment, I have not been convinced that I should vote on Wednesday with the Government,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
He backed a call made by the 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady for a full impact assessment of what lockdown would mean for the economy and people’s lives. “We know there are downsides to lockdown. We are going to see more suicides, we are going to have more people with depression, we know businesses are going to have to close.”
Former Cabinet minister John Redwood called on the Government to minimise disruption. “Keep outdoor sporting facilities open. Let garden centres and specialist household supply shops trade,” he said.