Keir Starmer has accused Chancellor Rishi Sunak of being a key player in delaying a second lockdown in England.
Sir Keir used an address to the CBI conference to say that Mr Sunak’s “name is all over” the Government’s decision to reject advice from experts in September to bring in a two-week “circuit break” closedown.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson then announced at the weekend a four-week lockdown will come into force from Thursday.
Sir Keir blamed Mr Sunak, who has been widely tipped as a favourite to succeed Mr Johnson as Tory leader, for helping delay a lockdown, insisting it would lead to more hardship and job losses.
The Labour leader said: “On September 21, the Government’s own scientists – Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) – recommended an ‘urgent’ two-to-three-week circuit breaker in order to prevent the virus getting out of control.
“On that day there were 11 deaths from Covid-19. And… just over 4,000 Covid infections.
“The Prime Minister failed to heed that warning. 40 days later – when he finally decided to announce a longer four-week national lockdown – those figures had increased to 326 deaths a day and 22,000 Covid cases.
“That is the human cost of the Government’s inaction.
“The impact on business – and jobs – will be severe.
“Make no mistake, the Chancellor’s name is all over this. His decision to block a circuit breaker – to dismiss it as a ‘blunt instrument’.
“And to pretend that you can protect the economy without controlling the virus will now mean that businesses have to close for longer.
“More people will lose their jobs. And the public finances will be worse than they needed to be.
“It makes me so angry. And so frustrated that when the British people – and British businesses – have given so much and made so many sacrifices they have been let down so badly by the Government.”
Sir Keir accused the Government of a failure of leadership over the issue.
He told the CBI conference: “One of the things I’ve learnt from this crisis is that it exposes leadership like nothing else.
“On that count 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.”
Sir Keir said that Labour would support the Government lockdown measures in the Commons, but was highly critical of the way the situation had been handled.
The Labour leader said: “The Government was slow to act – again.
“But, it can’t now waste these four weeks.
“They must be used to fix Test, Trace and Isolate – and to give control to local authorities.
“To get a grip on messaging and rebuild public trust.
“And to provide a clear and transparent road map to protect businesses and the NHS over the months to come.
“I know how difficult this next month will be, and the months to come.
“Now, more than ever, we need to stand together as a country, as families, and as communities.
“And to show – once again – that at a moment of national crisis, the British people always stand by those in need.”