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SDLP's Eastwood furious over furlough uncertainty

NI given second-class status, says party leader

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Anger: SDLP MP says businesses here deserve better than second class status

Anger: SDLP MP says businesses here deserve better than second class status

Anger: SDLP MP says businesses here deserve better than second class status

The Government has been accused of giving Northern Ireland "second-class status" amid confusion over whether the furlough scheme will be extended beyond December if there are more lockdowns in the devolved regions.

The scheme, which sees the Government fund up to 80% of wages where people are unable to work, was extended by Chancellor Rishi Sunak for one month across the UK after a new lockdown was announced for England.

But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed London had created "confusion" over the future of the initiative.

Stormont's Department of Finance said it was also waiting for clarity on the matter.

Asked by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford if furlough would be paid at 80% in the event of lockdowns beyond December in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, Prime Minister Boris Johnson replied: "The answer is yes because the furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme and applies across the whole of the UK."

Mr Johnson also told Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross on Monday that "if other parts of the UK decide to go into measures which require the furlough scheme, then of course it's available to them. That has to be right and that applies not just now, but of course in the future as well".

However, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News yesterday that any extension beyond December was "a decision the Chancellor will have to make at the time".

Questioned by MPs yesterday, Treasury minister Steve Barclay declined to confirm whether or not 80% furlough would be extended to the devolved regions beyond December.

He said: "We've already extended the furlough for the rest of this month and, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we will always be there for all parts of the UK."

Foyle MP Mr Eastwood said local businesses deserved better.

"In the House of Commons, Boris Johnson gave a guarantee that the furlough scheme would be extended at the full 80% if any of the devolved administrations implemented further lockdown restrictions needed to control the spread of Covid-19. It was an unequivocal statement when questioned by MPs," the SDLP leader added.

"It is incredible, therefore, that another government minister has said that extending the scheme in this way would be a decision for Rishi Sunak. Just who is in charge of the chaotic response to this crisis?

"Businesses in Derry, Belfast and Newry deserve to know that if the Executive applies further restrictions, they will be treated like any business in London and will receive the full support.

"Our businesses deserve better than the second-class status they've been given by the Government, which only springs into action when jobs in the south-east of England are under threat.

"Boris Johnson needs to stand by the commitment he gave in the House of Commons to businesses across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales."

Earlier, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Prime Minister "appears to have agreed" that access to the furlough scheme would be available in Scotland after December 2.

But after Mr Jenrick rowed back on the commitment, she said, "We need clarity on this urgently", adding that "woolly words don't pay people's wages".

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said: "We take the Prime Minister at his word and would expect him to instruct any Chancellor in a government led by him to do the same."

Belfast Telegraph


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