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Andrew Neil suggested Boris Johnson could have cost the Conservative Party significant support across northern constituencies because of his row with Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham. The Government and Mr Burnham engaged in a gripping battle of wills over plans to put the region under tier three coronavirus restrictions in exchange for £65million. Serving as a temporary host for Times Radio, Mr Neil told Lancashire MP Jake Berry: “Aren’t you in danger of having lost the north for £5million?
“That was the difference there was between the Government and Andy Burnham and his fellow local leaders.
“Five million pounds and you lost the north. I mean, isn’t that the height of political stupidity?”
The Greater Manchester mayor and other local authorities climbed down from their original £90million demand to £65million but the Government hit them back with a £60million counteroffer, a move which collapsed the negotiations.
Mr Berry, who formerly served as Northern Powerhouse Minister, defended the Government as he insisted London had wanted to make sure regions affected by a resurgence of COVID-19 cases received fair treatment.
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He said: “I don’t think it’s true, I don’t think we’ve lost the north. The north is not one homogenous bloc, it goes well beyond Greater Manchester and colleagues in Yorkshire, in Lancashire and Damien Moore, my colleague in Merseyside, are pleased that the Government has played it absolutely straight with their areas.
“I completely get and understand that Andy Burnham and some of my colleague in Greater Manchester on the Conservative benches are not happy they weren’t able to get those additional five million pounds out of the Government.
“But that would have reopened negotiations with all the other areas in the north that are going into tier three.”
Mr Neil however suggested the move will affect the standing of the Conservative Party in regions they only managed to snatch from the Labour Party last year.
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He said: “Is your party’s northern strategy now in something of a shambles?
“Instead of trying to get the show on the road, the Prime Minister seems to make it worse.”
During the December general election, Tories MPs won five historically Labour seats in the northeast, including Tony Blair’s former constituency of Sedgefield.
Redcar, Stockton South, Darlington and Bishop Auckland also swung to the Conservatives in a move deemed an unprecedented success in the party.
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Mr Berry admitted the negotiations with Greater Manchester had delivered a bit of a “body blow” to Conservatives but dismissed suggestions the north was lost.
He said: “I don’t think out norther strategy is as such but there are great concerns among colleagues about some of the positions the Government has been representing.
“There’s a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity for the Government to come out and reaffirm our commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and delivering to the people of the north.
“I don’t think it’s entirely in tatters. It’s had a few body blow over the last week.”
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