UK Politics: Keir Starmer says govt must answer 'difficult questions'

The government should be asked difficult questions, Starmer has said
Starmer said scrutiny is important at times like these
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Sir Keir Starmer has stressed the importance of the government being scrutinised over its management of the coronavirus pandemic. Tradefair brings you the latest from UK politics...

"Asking those difficult questions matters."

- Sir Keir Starmer

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said the government must answer "difficult questions" over its response to the coronavirus outbreak, stressing that "scrutiny is important" because it can highlight mistakes that need to be addressed.

Starmer - who was confirmed on Saturday as the successor to Jeremy Corbyn, beating Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey in the Labour leadership contest - also insisted he wouldn't be looking to "score party political points" during the current crisis.

His comments come as the UK prepares to enter its third week of strict lockdown measures designed to curb social interaction and tackle the spread of coronavirus.

'Difficult questions matter'

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Starmer underlined the need to find the right balance between cross-party unity and scrutiny of the government's actions.

He acknowledged that "we've got to be constructive" and said Labour was ready to "pull together" and support the government "where it's right to do so".

"But asking those difficult questions matters," Starmer continued. "You can see that when the difficult questions were asked on testing, things began to move. Same thing with equipment on the front line.

"So scrutiny is important here, because if scrutiny points out mistakes that can then be put right, it's achieved a very important thing going forward."

The new Labour leader cautioned against "opposition for opposition's sake" and said he won't "demand the impossible", which is "very easy to do in a time like this".

When he was asked if the Labour party would consider entering into a national government during the current crisis, Starmer said he and Boris Johnson had agreed arrangements for how they would work together in the coming weeks.

The prime minister was last night admitted to hospital after continuing to show symptoms ten days after testing positive for coronavirus. This is reportedly a precautionary move taken on the advice of his doctor.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC Johnson was still "very much in charge of the government" and ministers are hoping he will return to Downing Street "as soon as possible" after undergoing routine tests.

Challenges for the government

The government came under increasing pressure last week over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, specifically in relation to testing.

Questions are being asked about why the UK is falling short of its target of conducting 10,000 tests for Covid-19 per day. Mass testing is an approach that has been shown to deliver results in countries like South Korea and Germany.

Health minister Matt Hancock responded to the criticism by announcing a plan to test 100,000 people every day by the end of April, but questions remain about how this goal will be achieved.

A new survey by Opinium suggested that public support for the government's management of the health crisis declined last week, with the proportion of people who approve of Downing Street's actions dropping from two-thirds to just over half (52%).

Adam Drummond from Opinium said of the results: "While people naturally want to support efforts to handle the Covid-19 crisis and that will tend to translate into higher support for the government, it shows how conditional that support is and how vulnerable it is to any avoidable shortcomings on the government's part."

Markets gaining confidence?

The UK and other countries across the world are still very much in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but there are signs on the markets that investors are regaining some confidence about the economy's ability to recover from the crisis.

After Spain and Italy - the countries with the highest numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases in Europe - both announced that death rates had slowed in recent days, the FTSE 100 opened more than 3% higher on Monday morning.

London's blue chip index remained more than 2% up towards the end of the morning session, while in Germany, the DAX index was trading more than 4% higher.

There were indications of a strong opening on Wall Street too, with Dow Jones Industrial Average futures pointing to early gains of nearly 900 points.

Jasper Lawler, analyst at London Capital Group, said: "Markets are striking a more optimistic tone at the beginning of the week. Some governments are targeting Easter as a time to begin rolling back lockdown restrictions. Investors are taking it as an early sign that we're coming out the other side of the economic standstill."

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