The Labour Party has been accused of flip-flopping over Covid measures after Sir Keir Starmer said he does not want a circuit-breaker lockdown despite previously calling for one.
The Labour leader said he did not support new restrictions over the Christmas period because the current situation was "different" to previous virus waves when his party called for lockdown measures.
His comments, in an interview to be aired on Times Radio on Friday, come days after Labour said that it would vote for a circuit-breaker if Boris Johnson proposed one.
On Monday, Andy Slaughter, a Labour frontbencher, said: "Ministers know something has to be done. The sooner they do it, the better it will safeguard people."
Sir Keir called for a short lockdown in autumn last year when the second wave of Covid had just begun. Despite Mr Johnson’s decision not to impose a circuit-breaker before Christmas Day, the Labour leader did not repeat that call this year.
"If we look at the new variant, the numbers are a cause for concern," he said. "The hospitalisations are different than they were last autumn, when we called for the circuit-break… sorry, the autumn before when we called for the circuit-break."
Sir Keir said the Government "needs to get a grip, needs to come up with a plan" and that Labour would "look at it just as we did last week with Plan B – if we think it’s the right measures then we will then support it".
On Tuesday, Wes Streeting, Labour’s health spokesman, said he was "breathing a sigh of relief" that Christmas could continue as normal after front bench figures in the party had called for tougher measures.
Labour backbenchers on Wednesday night called on the leadership to provide alternative solutions if Sir Keir believed Mr Johnson’s approach was wrong.
"I think there’s a level of anxiety on Labour benches about the fairly unclear position by our leadership," one MP told The Telegraph. "It’s resulted in a number of really quite difficult interviews by our front bench who haven’t been able to answer questions posed to them by interviewers.
"On the one hand, we want to say that the Government’s going wrong – but on the other hand we won’t propose any alternative and I think it’s a really quite difficult position to sustain. A number of colleagues have said to me: ‘What on Earth is going on?’"
Labour U-turns on Covid policy
Kevan Jones, another Labour MP, said he believed more Covid measures would be introduced after Dec 25, adding: "It’s quite clear that further restrictions are inevitable. The Government is managing the Christmas Day issue but, after that, there will definitely be more restrictions brought in."
The row came as Sir Keir overtook Mr Johnson as the country’s preferred Prime Minister in a poll by Savanta ComRes. Thirty-three per cent said he would be the better choice, with 31 per cent preferring Mr Johnson.
The poll also found that Labour is leading the Conservatives in a general poll of voting intention for the third week in a row.