Nadhim Zahawi, right, wrongly accused the shadow health secretary of advocating for ‘stronger lockdown’ (Picture: Rex/PA/Getty)
A Tory cabinet minister has been caught out wrongly claiming Labour called for a lockdown in the run-up to Christmas.
Boris Johnson had faced pressure to tighten restrictions as Covid cases skyrocketed in December, fuelled by the Omicron variant, before opting to stick to his existing plan after a crunch data review.
Defending the government’s latest plans on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said its record since Christmas had been vindicated by the statistics.
He contrasted it with ‘what Labour wanted to do, which is lockdown before Christmas’.
Challenged by presenter Sophie Raworth, Mr Zahawi added: ‘[Shadow Health Secretary] Wes Streeting, on December 19th, said if you act fast and hard you do better, actually advocating for a stronger lockdown.’
‘You can check the interview, Sophie, he was advocating for stronger lockdowns. In the new year, he said: “Isn’t it wonderful that we didn’t lock down?”‘
Mr Streeting later responded by sharing a clip of the interview in question, which appeared to contradict Mr Zahawi’s claims, tweeting: ‘Oh dear, @nadhimzahawi.’
Asked by Sky News if he would vote for a new lockdown if the data supported it, as was advocated by scientists at the time, Mr Streeting said: ‘I don’t think that a lockdown would be necessary if the government takes action sooner rather than later.
Mr Zahawi defended the government’s Covid policy on BBC’s Sunday Morning Live (Picture: Rex)
‘We’re prepared to do what is necessary in the public interest.’
The shadow health secretary had clarified that Labour wanted the PM to ‘go further’ on economic support measures but stopped short of saying whether new lockdown restrictions were needed.
He stressed that ‘the government has access to far more information, options and avice than the opposition do’, adding that he had yet to meet the Chief Medical Officer for an update briefing later that day.
Quizzed about whether he disagreed with aspects of Mr Johnson’s plan, Mr Streeting said: ‘There are areas where we think the government can and should have gone further already, which is not about restrictions.
Mr Streeting said Labour wanted the government to ‘go further’ on economic support measures only (Picture: Sky News)
‘Statutory Sick Pay should be higher because there are lots of people who are supposed to be isolating who feel they can’t afford to do so.’
He also called for more support for industry, suggesting the government could give businesses a repayment break on Covid loans.
‘It’s not just the case that we’re voting to support measures in the public interest, we are encouraging the government to go further to help people who are feeling pain in their pockets.
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