Coronavirus: PM urged to explain plans for military to support police as new restrictions announced
Boris Johnson is facing demands from Labour to explain his proposal to use the Army to help support police amid the new coronavirus lockdown rules.
He faces Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions just hours after his TV broadcast in which he warned of a tough crackdown if people continue to break the rules.
And ahead of PMQs, Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel demanding answers about Mr Johnson’s announcement about using the Army.
In his dramatic TV address to the nation, the prime minister said: “We will put more police out on the streets and use the army to backfill if necessary.”
And earlier, in his Commons statement, he told MPs there would be a greater police presence on our streets “and the option to draw on military support where required to free up the police”.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said later: “This would involve the military backfilling certain duties, such as office roles and guarding protected sites, so police officers can be out enforcing the virus response.
“This is not about providing any additional powers to the military, or them replacing the police in enforcement roles, and they will not be handing out fines. It is about freeing up more police officers.”
But shadow home secretary and Starmer ally Mr Thomas-Symonds has written to Ms Patel calling for an explanation about what duties the military will carry out, whether they will face the public, and how much their role will cost.
“The fact that military may be needed to support policing functions shows the extraordinary pressure that policing has been put under, as a result of the thousands of officers lost under this government,” he wrote.
“These latest sets of COVID measures should not have come as a surprise, so it is vital that assurances are provided that proper planning has been undertaken.
“In my discussions with senior figures in policing, I have been concerned to hear that there has been insufficient consultation on this significant announcement.”
Labour’s challenge came as Mr Johnson gave an animated and at times passionate TV address appealing to the public to obey the rules or face much tougher lockdown rules.
“Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour,” he said.
“Now is the time for us all to summon the discipline, and the resolve, and the spirit of togetherness that will carry us through.
“I am deeply, spiritually reluctant to make any of these impositions, or infringe anyone’s freedom, but unless we take action the risk is that we will have to go for tougher measures later, when the deaths have already mounted and we have a huge caseload of infection such as we had in the spring.”
But in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told viewers in her TV broadcast that her government at Holyrood was already going further than Mr Johnson’s government at Westminster.
“From tomorrow, we are all being asked not to visit each other’s homes because we know that this is often how the virus spreads most easily from one household to another,” she said.
“But, generally, by staying out of other people’s houses for now, we give ourselves the best chance of bringing COVID back under control.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, responding to the Mr Johnson’s TV address, said: “The prime minister must take responsibility for what has gone wrong and apologise for the chaotic failure of his ‘world-beating’ test and trace system.
“It is inexcusable that this vital test and trace operation has been totally overwhelmed in recent weeks.
“Ministers must outline details of the practical steps they are taking to fix the test and trace system as quickly as possible. This is the only way to avoid yet more restrictions.”
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