Watch: Greater Manchester eyes millions in extra lockdown funding as talks continue
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will offer Manchester's leaders up to £100 million on Monday to accept Tier-3 coronavirus restrictions or risk having them imposed against their will.
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, described talks with Downing Street on Sunday as “constructive”, increasing speculation he might be ready to do a deal.
The Prime Minister wants to avoid imposing Tier-3 status on Manchester without local consent, and Government sources said talks with its leaders could take “days”.
Ministers believe if the situation in Manchester continues to worsen, Mr Burnham will come under increasing pressure locally to accept tighter measures for the sake of public health.
Mr Johnson has said he will intervene to impose Tier-3 status if there is no agreement.
The war of words between Mr Burnham and the Government continued on Sunday, with Mr Burnham accusing Westminster of “exaggerating” the health emergency, while Michael Gove told him to stop “posturing”.
Mr Johnson also faces increasing anger from some of his own MPs at the prospect of Manchester facing tougher measures.
On Sunday, backbenchers were embroiled in an extraordinary “blue on blue” row after 20 Tories from areas with low infection rates wrote to Mr Burnham urging him to put politics aside and accept Tier-3 status.
They were subjected to four-letter abuse on an WhatsApp group from their own colleagues, who accused them of “shafting” them to curry favour with No 10.
One Conservative source said the distrust between Downing Street and 'red wall' Tory MPs in the North West had become so severe that “they are looking to Andy Burnham for leadership rather than Boris”.
Mr Burnham tried to capitalise on the Tory divisions by writing to Mr Johnson, Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer and other party leaders calling for a debate and vote in Parliament to “break the impasse” on the financial help that should be given to areas put into the top tier of restrictions, which means pubs have to close and households cannot mix.
Government sources insisted no debate would be granted, and that Mr Burnham’s key demand – for the return of the furlough scheme paying 80 per cent of workers’ wages – was “nonsense”.
Mr Burnham will on Monday hold talks with Sir Edward Lister, Mr Johnson’s chief of staff, and Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, at which the Government will make a financial offer to the mayor and Greater Manchester’s council leaders.
Liverpool was given almost £50 million in support when it agreed to tier three status, covering extra money for local businesses and for enhanced test and trace.
Manchester, with double the population of Merseyside, is expected to be offered twice as much, although Downing Street sources refused to be drawn on figures, saying only that “talks are ongoing”.
Mr Burnham spoke to Sir Edward on Sunday afternoon, but sources briefed on the discussions said no offers or counter-offers were discussed.
In his letter to party leaders, Mr Burnham said that “most places” would end up in Tier 3 at some point before a vaccine is rolled out, and that “clear national entitlements” similar to during the first lockdown are essential to create the “sense of fairness” to ensure compliance with new restrictions.
However, Mr Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, accused Mr Burnham of engaging in political “posturing” and called for him to accept the measures “to save people’s lives”.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers and MP for Altrincham and Sale West in Greater Manchester, told the BBC the region’s Labour and Tory MPs were “pretty united” in opposing Tier-3 restrictions.
Mr Johnson has not ruled out imposing a so-called “circuit breaker” lockdown starting next week if infection rates do not come down. Sir Keir has backed a “circuit breaker” lasting two to three weeks, and Labour’s Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Cabinet Office minister, suggested multiple lockdowns could be necessary with short gaps in between.
She said: “If that is what is needed then that is the approach that has to be taken.”
Sheffield could be the next city to move into Tier 3 after its Mayor Dan Jarvis said he would resume talks with ministers on Monday after its infection rate reached 445 per 100,000, compared with 458 in Manchester.
However the North East appeared to have won a reprieve after cases there fell, with Mr Gove saying the region had managed to “bend the curve” by improving adherence to current measures.
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