Sir Keir Starmer has urged Boris Johnson to show “some basic honesty” and reveal what will happen once the second lockdown measures expire next month.
The Labour leader questioned whether the Prime Minister intends to lift the harshest level of restrictions for England on December 2 even if the Covid-19 infection rate is still increasing.
Mr Johnson has previously insisted the “autumn measures” will “end” in four weeks, although there has been speculation the shutdown could be extended.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said he has repeatedly stressed the lockdown restrictions will expire automatically on December 2 and he hopes “very much” to “get this country going again” in the run up to Christmas.
Sir Keir also offered to join cross-party talks with the Government to thrash out a solution on care home visiting during the lockdown.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Keir called the Prime Minister’s delay in acting over rising infection rates “a huge failure of leadership”.
He told MPs: “First, will the lockdown end on December 2 come what may, or will it depend on the circumstances at the time? People need to know that.”
Mr Johnson replied: “Well I am grateful for the support that he is now offering and I can answer him very simply – as the House knows and as I informed him repeatedly on Monday, these measures, these autumn measures to combat the surge, will expire automatically on December 2.
“And we will then, I hope very much, be able to get this country going again, to get businesses, to get shops open again in the run up to Christmas.
“But that depends on us all doing our bit now to make sure that we get the R (value) down.
“I’ve no doubt that we can, and that we’ll be able to go forward from December 2 with a very, very different approach – but, of course, it will be up to the House of Commons to decide, thereafter, what to do.”
Sir Keir continued: “Is he saying that if by December 2 the R rate, the infection rate, has not come below 1, and therefore on December 2 the infection rate is still rising, still rising on December 2, is he saying that come what may we will come out of lockdown with infection rates going up on December 2?
“That doesn’t seem sensible to me.”
Mr Johnson replied: “It is thanks to the efforts of the British people that the R is now currently only just above 1, as it is.
“And we are doing the right and the prudent thing at the right time to get that infection rate down and these measures, as I have said repeatedly to the House, will expire on December 2.
“If he is now saying he wants to expand, protract them beyond December 2, then perhaps he should make his position clear.”
But Sir Keir countered: “I just want some basic honesty.
“If the infection rate – we’ve got to look the public in the eye – is still going up on December 2, it is madness to come out of the system back to the tiered system, when we know the one thing the tiered system can’t cope with is an R rate above one.”
The Labour leader also asked Mr Johnson to use the lockdown to “fix Test and Trace”, adding: “We’ve been going round and round in circles on this.
“The latest figures show that 113,000 contacts were not even reached and that’s just in one week.
“Only 20% of those who should be isolating are doing so and the majority of people still don’t get results in 24 hours.”
The Prime Minister praised the Test and Trace system, and added: “I’m perfectly willing to accept the failings of Test and Trace, of course I am, and of course I take full responsibility for the frustrations people have experienced with that system.
“But to go from 3,000 tests a day, 2,000 tests a day to 500,000 is a quite remarkable feat.”
On care homes, Sir Keir raised concern over the emotional wellbeing of residents and their families if all visits are stopped.
He said: “It must be possible to find a way, perhaps a dedicated family member scheme of some sort, to allow some safe visits to alleviate the huge fears of isolation and despair across the coming months.
“Will the Prime Minister work cross-party to find a scheme that will work for those in care and their families?”
Mr Johnson said new guidance on care home visits will be announced on Wednesday to “strike the right balance” between seeing loved ones and limiting infection, before urging Sir Keir to follow the lead of former prime minister Tony Blair.
He said: “He should take a leaf out of the Blair book. And Tony Blair would not have spent four years in the same shadow cabinet as Jeremy Corbyn, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him.”