MPs back new lockdown regulations coming into force on Thursday

4 November 2020, 16:17 | Updated: 4 November 2020, 16:52

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Picture: PA

By Megan White

MPs have overwhelmingly backed new lockdown restrictions in England which come into force from Thursday, voting 516 to 38.

The nationwide circuit break lockdown will come into force at 00:01 on Thursday and last until December 2.

People will be told stay at home and pubs, restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops will close.

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37 MPs voted against the Government - 32 Tories, one Independent, four from the DUP - while former Prime Minister Theresa May abstained.

The move came as the NHS in England was set to move into its highest alert level - level 4 - from midnight amid a continuing rise in coronavirus patients needing hospital care.

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the service already had "22 hospitals' worth" of Covid-19 patients and now faced a "serious situation ahead".

With Labour supporting the new lockdown restrictions - which were also expected to be approved by the House of Lords later on Wednesday - the Government's majority was never in doubt.

However Mr Johnson faced an angry backlash from some Tory MPs - led by former prime minister Theresa May - alarmed at the economic impact of the controls as well as the curtailment of civil liberties.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister sought to reassure MPs that the measures - which are due to expire on December 2 - should enable shops and businesses to reopen in time for the run-up to Christmas.

He acknowledged however that it would depend on getting the R number - the reproduction rate of the virus - back down below 1.

It comes after the Government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said on Tuesday that while the tiered system of lockdown restrictions was working, virus deaths in England were still set to reach those in the first wave by mid-December without stricter measures.

Some Conservative MPs rebelled and voted against the measures, including former ministers Tim Loughton and Steve Baker.

Mr Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) said: "For many, this is economic death by a thousand cuts, a salami-slicing of business and the resulting redundancies and bankruptcies, reduced wages, will affect the livelihoods and lives of so many of our constituents.

"At the very least we should have an economic audit of the impact of lockdown which feeds into and challenges the scientific advice."

He continued: "National lockdown is a big step, the science for it is questionable, the business case against it is overwhelming.

"Why are we doing it at this stage before seeing the effects of regional lockdown?

"So, for me, the case is not proven, the measures proposed are not proportionate, and I cannot vote for them."

Mr Baker said: "It's with a heavy heart and many misgivings that I will be voting no tonight.

"I really wish I had the clarity on either side of the argument, which is occasionally held and expressed in this House and much more routinely expressed outside."

Mr Baker said it will be a "disaster" if people do not comply with the lockdown, adding in a nod to Boris Johnson's senior adviser Dominic Cummings: "We can have no more innovative eye test procedures in the course of this lockdown. There must be compliance and a good example set."

Conservative former minister Sir Bob Neill said he wanted clear evidence as to why the measures are necessary, details on how likely they will be required for and the exit strategy.

He said: "With a heavy heart, I cannot support the Government in the lobbies today."