Boris Johnson faces growing revolt as MPs reject entering Covid Tier 3

24 November 2020, 15:01

The new tiers will be stricter than before
The new tiers will be stricter than before. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Boris Johnson is facing a growing rebellion as Tory MPs demand to see the evidence for plunging millions more people into tougher coronavirus restrictions after England's second national lockdown.

The Prime Minister warned on Monday that “many more” areas will be in stricter tiers than the previous system, as he stressed the scientific advice says “our tiers need to be made tougher”.

It means large parts of England could face continued pub, cafe and restaurant closures and bans on household mixing until next March, when the fresh restrictions are due to expire.

The move risks a more widespread repeat of the dramatic stand-off between northern leaders and Downing Street over the previous system, with MPs and mayors in the south set to wage their own resistance.

A group of sceptical Conservative backbenchers are piling pressure on the Prime Minister to acknowledge the “harms on all sides” of stricter measures from 2 December, when the current shutdown ends.

Read more: What the new tier system means for you

Read more: Government meets with devolved leaders over Christmas covid plans

Steve Baker, a leading figure in the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, said it was vital that ministers clearly set out the criteria to judge each area's tier location based on Covid risk.

“This can’t be on the whim of ministers or the capacity of an individual MP or councillor to successfully lobby for their area,” the influential backbencher said.

In London, where official figures show Covid-19 cases are falling in 12 boroughs, several Tory MPs are calling for the Government to introduce tiers on a borough-by-borough basis, an approach so far rejected.

The Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is also lobbying for London to be put in Tier 2, with No 10 warned of a furious backlash from MPs and business chiefs in the capital if "hammer blow" Tier 3 is imposed.

Under the new system:

– In Tier 1: people are encouraged to work from home wherever possible and pubs and restaurants can shut at 11pm, with last orders at 10pm. Rule of six applies when meeting indoors or outdoors.

– In Tier 2: no household mixing indoors, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal.

– In Tier 3: no household mixing indoors or outdoors, or in private gardens, pubs and restaurants will only be able to offer takeaway and delivery, while indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will close.

Read more: Tough tiers until spring as PM reveals post-lockdown plan

The allocation of tiers will be dependent on a range of factors, including each area's case numbers, the reproduction rate - or R number - and the current and projected pressure on the NHS locally, and Tier 3 areas will be offered a six-week surge in testing, the PM said.

It came as Government scientific advisers said household were more risky centres of transmission than pubs, but warned the effect of the tiers would only kick in at Tier 2 so may not go far enough, raising the possibility of a “Tier 4”.

In a speech to parliament on Monday, Boris Johnson warned that “more regions will fall – at least temporarily – into higher levels than before” when details are finalised.

Anger is also building amongst leaders in north-west England. Unlike under the previous system, there will be no negotiation with local leaders. The Government has said financial support will be allocated on a uniform per-capita basis.

Dan Jarvis, the mayor of the Sheffield city region, said the system could not continue to disproportionately affect the poorest regions without negotiation with local leaders, or it would risk losing trust.

“We’re already sacrificing a great deal when we can ill afford it," he said.

“Consistency and fairness is the essential condition of all of this. You can’t refuse to negotiate with local governments but then say lockdowns are a matter of judgment.

“You can’t refuse to negotiate and then not give us the support we need. You have to get it right.”

The tier placings will be reviewed every fortnight and are expected to last until Easter. Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted on Tuesday the previous tier system was not strict enough.

Despite the progress on a vaccine and the testing developments, Mr Johnson said that “this will still be a hard winter, Christmas cannot be normal and there is a long road to spring”. But he added: “We have turned a corner and the escape route is in sight.”