Coronavirus: New Labour leader Starmer pledges to work ‘constructively’ with government over COVID-19

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to work “constructively” with the government over the coronavirus pandemic.

Sir Keir, who was elected Jeremy Corbyn’s successor on Saturday, has accepted an offer from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to attend a COVID-19 briefing next week.

The pair spoke on the phone earlier.

A spokesperson for the Labour leader said: “Keir offered to work constructively with the government on how best to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, accepted the prime minister’s offer to meet next week and agreed arrangements for Privy Council briefings and discussions.”

In his victory speech, Sir Keir said Labour had a “shared purpose” with the government in getting the country through the coronavirus pandemic.

He added: “Under my leadership, we will engage constructively with the government, not opposition for opposition’s sake. Not scoring party political points or making impossible demands.

“But with the courage to support where that’s the right thing to do.

“But we will test the arguments that are put forward.

“We will shine a torch on critical issues and where we see mistakes or faltering government or things not happening as quickly as they should we’ll challenge that and call that out.

“Our purpose when we do that is the same as the government’s, to save lives and to protect our country, a shared purpose.”

Mr Johnson wrote on Twitter: “I have just spoken to @Keir_Starmer & congratulated him on becoming Labour leader.

“We agreed on the importance of all party leaders continuing to work constructively together through this national emergency.

“I have invited him and other opposition leaders to a briefing next week.”

The PM has written to opposition party leaders, telling them “we have a duty to work together at this moment of national emergency”.

The letter states: “Therefore, I would like to invite all leaders of opposition parties in parliament to a briefing with myself, the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser next week.

“I want to listen to your views and update you on the measures we have taken so far, such as rapidly expanding testing and providing economic support to businesses and individuals across the country.

“The government I lead will act in the national interest at all times and be guided by the best scientific evidence, and of course we will continue to engage constructively with all political parties on the national effort to defeat this pandemic.

“I have no doubt that – as we have so many times in the past – the people of the United Kingdom will rise to this current challenge, and we will beat coronavirus together.”

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “At this moment of national crisis, the role of all opposition parties must be to support measures to tackle the coronavirus, whilst also standing up for the most vulnerable by properly scrutinising the government.

“I look forward to working with Keir Starmer on that task.”

The UK has been in lockdown for more than 10 days, after the government announced stringent measures to try and limit the spread of COVID-19.

A leading scientist and government adviser has said social distancing measures could be relaxed within weeks if there are signs the epidemic is slowing.

Imperial College London Professor Neil Ferguson said the UK’s epidemic was expected to plateau in the next week to 10 days, but said people’s behaviour was critical to determining what happens next.

The Department of Health and Social Care said on Saturday that 708 more people had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total deaths in the UK to 4,313.

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