UK opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer has made a U-turn on whether schools should stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starmer's abrupt change of tack on Monday came just hours before Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to announce tougher restrictions in a bid to halt a surge in cases linked to a new, more infectious strain of coronavirus.
The Labour leader told ITV news that everyone would agree closing schools "should be the last resort".
"But as I said yesterday, it is sadly, tragically inevitable that schools will have to close. Therefore they should be part of the national restrictions that should come into force as soon as possible".
— Daniel Hewitt (@DanielHewittITV) January 4, 2021
The powerful National Education Union (NEU) has repeatedly called for schools to be closed or class sizes restricted to both stop the spread of the virus and protect its members. On Monday, NEU General Secretary Kevin Courtney said more than 100 Labour MPs — nearly half the party's parliamentary group — had attended an online Zoom meeting called by the union.
— National Education Union (@NEUnion) January 4, 2021
— Kevin Courtney #NEU💝NHS (@cyclingkev) January 4, 2021
Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy set herself at odds with the NEU just before Christmas when she told the Sky News' Sophy Ridge: "I think schools should be the last thing to close and the first thing to open".
"Bring in those restrictions now, national restrictions, within the next 24 hours," The Labour leader said. "We can't allow the prime minister to use up the next two or three weeks and then bring in a national lockdown which is inevitable. Do it now."
The UK has seen almost 2.5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and over 75,400 related deaths since the virus reached British shores last January.