Picture: David Dixon. License: CC BY-SA 3.0
Sadiq Khan has said that he knew nothing about Government plans to seal off the capital at the M25 if coronavirus cases rise.
Serious Covid-19 spikes in the north west of England led to local lockdown in Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire from last Friday (31 July).
As infections in Europe rose, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and senior advisors held an emergency briefing last Wednesday (29 July) to war-game a strategy for local lockdowns.
This created the blue print for the north west lockdown announced the following evening – but also included specific discussion of London, The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph reported.
While rising coronavirus rates in Manchester were put down to households mixing, based on to test and trace data, ministers fear London could suffer from infected arrivals on flights into the city.
Last week, the Government pulled the plug on holidays to Spain and Luxembourg – removing them from the ‘green list’ of countries where Brits aren’t required to quarantine when they get back.
Belgium could soon join the ‘red list’ of high risk nations, while other European nations have also seen cases spike.
At the Wednesday meeting, the Prime Minister discussed the prospect of locking Londoners in the capital and banning travel outside the M25, the papers reported.
Overnight stays could be banned in the city, with higher risk businesses like hairdressers forced to close and residents ordered to stay home.
But London’s elected Mayor knew nothing of the plans until he read about them in the media.
And Mr Khan has today written to Mr Johnson, accusing him of “riding roughshod” over local democracy.
The Mayor said “using the M25 as a quarantine ring” is “effectively sealing off the city” and he was surprised that “such far-reaching contingency plans” were discussed without involving him.
“This is clearly totally unacceptable and an affront to London and Londoners,” he said in his letter to the Prime Minister, co-signed by London Councils chairman Peter John.
“We are accountable to nine million Londoners and have a duty to represent their views and best interests,” they wrote.
“We also know our communities and their needs far better than national Government.”
Mr Khan said it has been 12 weeks since he attended the last COBRA meeting – the emergency committee has not met in that time.
The Mayor was initially excluded from COBRA meetings in early March despite the fact that the capital was then at the centre of the outbreak.
The Local Democracy Service revealed on 16 March that Mr Khan had been invited to attend, and he has been present at subsequent meetings.
But the Mayor said the Government’s most recent response was not good enough.
“Riding roughshod over democratically elected representatives who understand their communities better than central government will lead to worse outcomes for Londoners, and the country as a whole,” he said.
A spokesperson for Number 10 declined to comment on the possibility of an M25 lockdown or on a specific briefing exercise – but did not deny that such a meeting took place.
“Local lockdowns are not specific to London or anywhere else,” he said. “We are responding as and when necessary and working with local authorities.”
The strategy for local containment of Covid-19 is “not a new thing” and was set out two weeks ago, he added.
Jessie Matthewson - Local Democracy Reporter
August 3, 2020