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Wed, 21 October 2020

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Greater Manchester Tories Hit Back On Tier 3 Restrictions In An Explosive Phone Call With Health Minister Helen Whately

Greater Manchester Tories Hit Back On Tier 3 Restrictions In An Explosive Phone Call With Health Minister Helen Whately
4 min read

Furious Tory MPs led the resistance against Tier 3 lockdown measures for Greater Manchester on an explosive call with health minister Helen Whately this morning.

In an orchestrated move with Labour, the region’s Conservatives lined up one by one to tell the government why their proposal for stricter Covid-19 measures would hurt the economy and should not go ahead. 

After separate meetings between No 10 and Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, this morning health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons that the region would stay in Tier 2 for now.

Former Labour front-bencher Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish, said: “We thought the Tories should come in first. That was a tactic so the minister could see this wasn’t just Labour MPs kicking off. 

“But it’s a game of poker now and who blinks first. Will the government just lose their temper and impose Tier 3 and get all the blame for whatever happens? Or will they come up with more money from the Treasury? You can either do this against our will, and how bad will that look, or will the Treasury move slightly.”

Tory member for Hazel Grove in south Manchester, William Wragg, told the Commons “the impossible has been achieved” with all the region’s MPs, council leaders and the mayor in agreement with one another in opposing a tier 3 lockdown.

Health Minister Helen Whatley

He said: “The meeting we had earlier today was entirely pointless and we may as well have talked to a wall quite frankly. 

“The closure of hospitality will drive people into private dwellings where they will mix, we do not thank goodness live in a police state for that is the only way to police it. Can they please listen to common sense and think again?”

Tories in ex-red wall seats dominated the fightback, with 2019 MPs Christian Wakeford (Bury South) quizzing Whately on the reason for Tier 3, and James Daly, who holds ultra-marginal Bury North, hammering home his area’s lower number of cases and low intensive care admissions as a reason why it shouldn’t be swept up in Manchester-based restrictions.

Cheadle MP Mary Robinson is understood to have said that wage subsidy on the Job Support Scheme might not be enough for people to live on. Chairman of the backbench Tory 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady, also joined in the protest against the move. 

The Tory MPs asked for the evidence that the hospitality sector is a place the virus is spreading. As tempers frayed, Whately ended the call by saying there were clearly “lots of different opinions” on the issue. Angry MPs then unmuted themselves, interrupting her to say they were all against Tier 3 restrictions.

Gwynne said: “We all said don’t you dare misrepresent the meeting. We are all speaking with one voice. Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) said ‘we’re a city united’. She couldn’t get off the call fast enough.” 

Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton, said: “It was not a good meeting. We were saying hang on, we are all united here, what are you talking about saying there’s different views?”

Andy Burnham

Burnham, and other local authority leaders, who had been on a separate call, told the prime minister’s adviser Sir Edward Lister that they opposed going into Tier 3, which meant the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants, gyms and betting shops, unless there was a significant financial package.

Liverpool City Region is the only part of the country that has agreed to go into Tier 3 so far, and today regional mayor Steve Rotheram said they were putting together a £40 million fund to protect jobs in the hospitality sector.

Despite agreeing to the terms of Tier 3 with government this week, Rotheram is now asking for an increase in its wage support scheme to cover 80 percent of someone’s usual earnings - not the proposed level of 66 percent. 

A local government source in Liverpool said: "We don't have the deep dive knowledge here of exactly what is happening in Manchester, but I believe there are some differences in terms of their statistics and figures compared to ours. 

"They seem to have a disproportionate number of infections in lower age groups, so they're not seeing quite the same pressure in the NHS.  

"And of course, most significantly they've got the chairman of the 1922 as one of their MPs who will speak out against any stricter measures.  Which is a very medically and epidemiologically sound basis for making decisions, of course."

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