Boris Johnson called the idea “the height of absurdity”, a policy that would that would inflict unnecessary “misery” on the public and would “turn the lights out”.
An No 10 source, hiding behind anonymity, went further, branding Keir Starmer “a shameless opportunist playing political games in the middle of a global pandemic” by even proposing it.
Now the prime minister is poised not only to adopt that very policy – another national lockdown of the economy and much of society – but for a longer period, because he delayed.
The advice was not revealed until 12 October, prompting the Labour leader – the next day – to announce he was following the science and urging the government to do the same.
But, at prime minister’s questions on 14 October, Mr Johnson not only rejected Sir Keir’s circuit break plan, he accused his opponent of “opportunism” by pushing for it.
“Let us try to avoid the misery of another national lockdown, which he would want to impose, as I say, in a headlong way,” he told the Labour leader.
A week later, in the Commons again, Mr Johnson upped the ante by attacking a second national lockdown as “the height of absurdity” that would “turn the lights out”.
“It would involve closing schools and shuttering businesses, with all the psychological and emotional damage that a lockdown of that kind brings,” he alleged – even though Labour was not calling for school closures.
“He cannot say how many circuit breakers he thinks would be necessary. He cannot say how long they would go on. He cannot say how much damage they would do to the UK economy and to people’s mental health.”
The government would plough on with a “commonsensical local and regional approach” he vowed – the three-tier system – which was “keeping our economy moving”.
Just 10 days later, the prime minister appears to have decided his “commonsensical” approach does not make sense after all.