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Starmer backs full reopening of schools on March 8th – LabourList

Sophy Ridge on Sunday

Keir Starmer urged caution on the easing of restrictions, backed a full reopening of schools for all children on March 8th, did not call for Matt Hancock’s resignation following a court ruling that the minister acted unlawfully and talked about his vision for the country.

  • On the unlocking, he urged: “Careful, cautious, follow the science and make sure the support is there for business. They’ve got this far, they need to survive beyond the next set of restrictions.”
  • On schools fully reopening on March 8th and trade union calls for a staggered return: “I’d like to see all schools back open on March 8th and all children back in schools on March 8th.”
  • Pressed on whether or not there should be a staggered reopening: “We’re going to have to look at the data and the detail as we go into those weeks just before March 8th, see where we are on the infection rates.”
  • On vaccine passports: “Internationally, it’s probably inevitable that some sort of vaccine passport is going to come into being… Vaccine passports within the UK is something we need a national debate about.”
  • On domestic vaccine passports: “I’d be very worried, for example, if we got to a situation where it was suggested that people would lose their job if they hadn’t had a vaccine.”
  • On accusations that he has only called for inevitable moves during Covid, he highlighted his call for a ‘circuit break’ in October and his call for a review of Christmas restrictions in mid-December.
  • He added: “The idea that we’ve only called for things just before the government is about to do it actually I don’t think in fairness is borne out by the examples that I’ve just given.”
  • On Matt Hancock, found to have acted unlawfully over Covid contracts: “I don’t want to call for him to resign… At the moment, at this stage of the pandemic, I want all government ministers working really hard to get us through this.”
  • On his post-Covid vision: “We take a different path, which is to go forward to a different and better future, where we have a government – an active government – working with business to tackle inequality.”
  • Put to him that the government has already committed to building back ‘better’: “Whatever the Prime Minister says about the state and the future and levelling up, just look at some of the decisions over the past few months.”
  • Highlighting decisions to cut Universal Credit, force council tax rises and introduce a public sector pay freeze, he added: “These are not the hallmarks of a government that is serious about dealing with inequality.”
  • On EU freedom of movement: “Free movement has gone and you can’t flick a switch on this. Free movement depended on membership of the EU, depended on membership of the single market, and we’re in a different place now.”
  • On decriminalising cannabis possession: “I’ve never subscribed to that view… I’ve seen too much of the damage that sits behind drugs for me to go down that route.”
  • Asked whether trans women should have access to women-only spaces: “I don’t think we’re in the right place on trans’ rights. I think we should go further than the current legislation.”
  • On what he would change: “The processes and procedures in place are demeaning and there’s too many stories of how demeaning it is that I’ve heard for myself, we must be able to do better than that.”
  • On women-only spaces: “I know how precious some of the spaces are that they need to be secure, to be safe, and therefore there are no easy answers.”

Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell called on the government to cancel household debt accrued during Covid, said the government should listen to the unions on schools and urged Starmer to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn.

  • On schools fully reopening on March 8th and the call for a staggered return: “I can’t think of anyone better to listen to than those on the frontline and that is the teachers’ unions.”
  • He added: “I don’t think that’s different from what Keir is saying. Keir is saying is when it’s safe and if we have to have a staggered reopening of the schools, let’s listen to those on the frontline.”
  • On his call to cancel debt accrued in the Covid crisis: “We have now about a million, just over a million, in severe debt… There’s about a £10bn debt that’s been caused by Covid on individuals and families.”
  • On how that would be done: “We lifted the debt off the banks when the banks were in crisis. Hundreds of billions were lifted off them by taking the debt on by the Bank of England and therefore servicing it that much more cheaply.”
  • He also suggested: “If you did want to pay for it in one fell swoop, why not have a windfall tax on those companies, well the banks and property developers, tech companies and others… why not a windfall tax on them?”
  • On Starmer’s speech this week: “Keir did a framing speech during the week where he, for me, basically said we need to be as radical as the Attlee government… That suits me fine. What we need to do now is roll that out.”
  • On Hancock: “I’m glad you asked Hancock about the contracts. I wish you’d have gone further and asked him, is it a requirement to donate to the Tory Party to get one of these contracts? Because that’s what it appears to be.”
  • Asked whether the Labour leader should be more angry: “I don’t think it’s just on Keir’s shoulders, I think it’s for all of us… It’s time to hold this government to account.”
  • On Labour: “You need to present that vision, but then start presenting the details that will enable us to achieve that vision. That does mean starting early rather than leaving it too late because you’ve got to win the argument.”
  • On Jeremy Corbyn: “Let’s unite the party, as [Starmer] promised, and that does mean giving the whip back to Jeremy Corbyn. Let’s unite the party so we can move on and really be an effective opposition.”

The Andrew Marr Show

David Lammy, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, said Labour wants a full non-staggered reopening of schools on March 8th “if it can be done safely”. He defended Labour’s British recovery bond policy and denied that Labour is being quiet on Brexit.

  • On the full reopening of schools: “We all want children back in schools on March 8th. The question is not that, which I think the whole country wants. It’s how we do it safely.” He added that Nightingale classes and mass testing that works is needed.
  • On trade union opposition to a non-staggered return: “It’s understandable that frontline teachers and headteachers don’t think the government have got a grip of this situation.”
  • He added: “We all want children back in schools on March 8th if it can be done safely. That’s the position.”
  • On Starmer’s big speech this week: “It was a great speech that set the tone for where we are at this moment.”
  • On John McDonnell’s proposal of using a windfall tax on those who have profited from Covid to cancel personal debt: “It’s 2021. The election is in 2024. We’ve got lots of time for big policy ideas.”
  • On the Covid recovery bond idea: “It can be at a normal rate of interest. What people have, if they invest in bonds, is security for their money. If you’ve got £250bn worth of British taxpayers’ money sitting in banks, let’s put it to good use, invest in your country’s economy.”
  • On Matt Hancock’s unlawful failure to publish Covid contracts: “He should publish the contracts. He should cancel the temporary scheme that he’s been using without any accountability or any transparency. He should come to parliament on Monday and explain what he’s going to do.”
  • On the suggestion that Labour won’t talk about Brexit anymore: “Nonsense.” He added that Louise Haigh and Rachel Reeves have been raising Brexit issues consistently.
  • On whether anyone has told him to ‘stop banging on about Brexit’: “Absolutely not.”

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, refused to apologise for the unlawful lack of transparency around government procurement during the Covid crisis, saying “it was the right thing to do”.

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