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Boris Johnson Is Facing A Growing Backbench Rebellion From MPs Angry Over The Lack Of Evidence For Tougher Restrictions

5 min read

Over a dozen Tory MPs — including several current and former ministers — have criticised the decision to put their constituencies under the toughest coronavirus restrictions once lockdown ends.

It comes after health secretary Matt Hancock announced the new “strengthened” coronavirus tier system on Thursday which will come into effect across England next week. 

Many have criticised the government for imposing measures countywide rather than taking a more granular approach, while others have called for more evidence to justify restrictions.

Boris Johnson is now facing the prospect of a significant backbench rebellion against the new coronavirus tiers when they go before MPs next week. 

More than half of the country is set to go to Tier 2, which restricts household mixing indoors, while much of the North East, North West, Midlands and Kent will be subject to Tier 3 restrictions, meaning many hospitality businesses will be required to shut or operate takeaway only.

Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon and minister for business and industry, said he was “hugely disappointed” that his area had been placed in the highest tier, blaming the “high numbers of infection” in neighbouring North Warwickshire and Solihull.

Meanwhile, 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady has said he will join fellow backbenchers Tobias Ellwood and Sir Robert Syms in voting against the system when it goes before parliament.

He told the BBC that his Altrincham and Sale West constituency, which sits in Greater Manchester, shouldn’t be in Tier 3 as it has a lower Covid-19 infection rate than the national average.

MPs in Kent have also criticised the government's decision to place the county in Tier 3 despite being in Tier 1 before lockdown, with Damian Green saying he was “hugely disappointed”.

Veteran local MP Sir Roger Gale and Folkestone MP Damian Collins have both argued that imposing blanket measures across the county fails to reflect variations in infection rates between boroughs. 

It comes after a group of seven MPs representing Kent — including Tom Tugendhat, Helen Grant, Greg Clark and Tracey Crouch — signed a letter on Wednesday calling for restrictions to be decided on a borough or district level rather than countywide.

Other backbenchers have also expressed frustration that only three areas —  Cornwall, the Scilly Isles and the Isle of Wight —  have been placed into the lowest Tier 1 category across the country, which comes with the lowest level of restrictions.

Dorset MP Simon Hoare and York Outer MP Julian Sturdy are among those frustrated that their constituencies have been bumped into Tier 2 despite relatively low local rates of infection.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Sturdy said: “I've serious concerns that without a rapid move towards Tier 1, we risk undermining local morale, as the self-discipline that has got us to the lowest virus rate in Yorkshire seems not to yield a relaxation in restrictions, because of higher rates in the rest of the county.”

He added that he would “struggle to support” the system without further data and a clear roadmap for getting the area into Tier 1. 

Northern Research Group member William Wragg also took to Twitter, claiming he could not support the current system. He wrote:  "Stockport’s Covid rates continue to fall sharply and will no doubt be lower still next week. We should be considered for tiering on a Local Authority basis."

Elsewhere, co-chair of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) and former minister Steve Baker has said he won’t consider backing the restrictions unless a full cost-benefit analysis is published.

He said: “I am open to supporting measures where it can clearly be demonstrated that the government intervention will save more lives than it costs - as long as this data and analysis is published in full and in time ahead of any votes in Parliament, so that MPs and the public have a chance to scrutinise it.”

The powerful statement comes a week after the CRG calling on the government to prove that any new restrictions “will save more lives than they cost” received the backing of 70 Tory MPs and 14 peers.

But, speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, chancellor Rishi Sunak said it was unlikely that such analysis would be issued, claiming it was “very hard to be precise in estimating the particular impact of a one-week restriction”.

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