A FURIOUS row has broken out between Boris Johnson’s Government and leaders in Greater Manchester over efforts to impose tighter coronavirus restrictions, leaving the region "set up as the canaries in the coalmine". 

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said the region "stands firm" in its decision to oppose being moved in Tier 3 lockdown restrictions, after he threatened legal action if the step was taken without the consent of local leaders. 

Speaking at a press conference in Manchester city centre this afternoon, he vowed to continue "fighting back" for the health of the region. 

He said: "They are asking us to gamble our residents’ jobs, homes and businesses and a large chunk of our economy on a strategy that their own experts tell them might not work.

"Our conclusion from the Number 10 meeting this morning is they are willing to try and sacrifice jobs and businesses here to try and save them elsewhere.

"Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City-Region and Lancashire are being set up as the canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy as an attempt to prevent the expense of what is truly needed."

Mr Burnham has called for a "full and fair" furlough scheme paying 80 per cent of wages to affected workers, a self-employed support scheme of the same value, and a "proper" compensation scheme for businesses. 

His call came after political figures were involved in an "absolutely pointless" meeting this morning.

All 27 MPs were invited to the virtual meeting to discuss the possibility of moving the area into Tier 3 lockdown restrictions, with Greater Manchester chiefs - including Bolton Council leader Cllr David Greenhalgh and Mr Burnham - also meeting with the government. 

Neither meeting reached a decision, with both MPs and council chiefs lining up to criticise the plan and the way it has been handled by Number 10 and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Cllr Greenhalgh said: "I want to say that I am proud of the way Government responded in March to the way they supported businesses when lockdown was introduced.

"It wasn't perfect but it showed a commitment to help and support, but Government now needs to realise that if similar help is not now replicated, businesses in boroughs like Bolton will go under and that money will have been wasted.

"And it should be acknowledged that Greater Manchester has been disproportionately affected suffering over three months of lockdown measures, and in particular in Bolton, with three weeks of complete hospitality closure, so I genuinely believe our businesses begin from a lower threshold in terms of being able to survive further lockdown restrictions.

"We do believe Tier 3, in its present form, is not the answer, but I hope to still engage with other leaders and Government in meaningful dialogue over the forthcoming days.

"I genuinely hope that local voices will be listened to."

Jim McMahon, MP for Oldham West and Royton, called the MP's meeting "absolutely pointless".

He said: "No consultation, no evidence was shared on the likely impact of further measures, no economic analysis and no enhanced financial support."

Lucy Powell, a Labour official for Manchester Central, supported the analysis, saying there was "unanimous fury" from those on the call about the evidence provided and the economic support offered to the area.

Speaking in the House of Commons, she said: "I've just come off a call with Greater Manchester colleagues about the widely speculated move of Greater Manchester into Tier 3.

"There was unanimous fury on that call about the process, about the evidence base, and about the economic support packages on the table.

"We want action, but it has to be the right action, because we've lived in Tier 2 now for nearly three months and it's not worked.

"The Chief Medical Officer says that measures in Tier 3 will not make a material difference to the infection rate yet they will cause widespread economic damage to our region – costing tens of thousands of jobs and thousands of businesses.

"It's not good enough that meaningful conversations only began this morning."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged the officials to work together, as the rising number of infections across the metropolitan area meant "action is needed fast".

Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish, criticised the government, saying: "While they claim 'no decision on Tier 3' we know it was being heavily briefed."

Boris Johnson has been putting pressure on Greater Manchester officials to agree to the "deal" put in front of them about moving to a Tier 3 alert level.

A key sticking point is the extra funding that would be made available to the region if harsher lockdown measures are imposed, with Mr Burnham saying two-thirds pay for workers is unacceptable.

Mr Hancock said he was launching a leak inquiry into how information about the wrangling became public following reports the region was expected to be moved to Tier 3.

MPs from across the House told ministers they opposed being moved into Tier 3 in a private meeting on Thursday morning.

Hazel Grove’s William Wragg said: “I have news from Greater Manchester where the impossible has been achieved.

“All of the Members of Parliament, the leaders of the councils and indeed the mayor, surprisingly, are in agreement with one another, the meeting we had earlier today was entirely pointless.

“I may as well have talked to a wall, quite frankly.”

A separate meeting between the Government and local leaders went little better.

Oldham’s Labour council leader Sean Fielding said: “I am far from a seasoned negotiator but the GM (Greater Manchester) meeting just now was a masterclass in how not to do it.

“Opening line from Govt: ‘We either do tier 3 with you or impose it’.

“And then absolutely nothing is offered to bring us on side because ‘there is no money’.”

Further meetings are planned between the Government and Greater Manchester’s leaders, but it is not yet known when these will take place.

Mr Hancock said that in areas currently in the second tier “where discussions are ongoing” no further decisions have yet been made “but we need to make rapid progress”.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy renounced claims that there was division within the region, saying: "Despite repeated attempts to claim we’re divided there was total unity from Conservative and Labour Greater Manchester MPs on the call with the Minister this morning.

"We will support evidence based interventions with adequate financial support. We will not support this chaos."