Senior Tory MPs demand ‘step-by-step’ plan to end coronavirus lockdown within weeks
Downing Street has warned that easing the lockdown too soon risks a second peak of the virus.
Senior Conservative MPs have warned the Government that it must begin a “step-by-step” lifting of the UK-wide coronavirus lockdown within weeks.
Leading figures from the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers met on Wednesday night to express their concern amid growing pressure for ministers to map a route out of the wide-ranging restrictions on normal life.
They said that the damage being done to the economy by the lockdown could potentially be more damaging to the UK in the long run than Covid-19.
Ministers have so far resisted calls to set out a timeframe for the restrictive measures to be eased, with Downing Street this week warning that a second peak of the virus would “do the most damage to health and the economy”.
"If you move too quickly then the virus could begin to spread exponentially again,” the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said. “The public will expect us to do everything we can to stop the spread of the virus and protect life."
But there is growing disquiet from senior Conservatives for the Government to chart a course out of the lockdown amid warnings of severe economic damage.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Treasurer of the 1922 Committee, told The Times ministers needed to begin a “gradual, step-by-step” easing within two to three weeks.
He said: “That inevitably will mean that there will be, at each time, more coronavirus cases. And we just have to accept that. If we keep the lockdown going, it will be much more difficult for the economy to recover.
“The nation is quite divided on this and it’s up to the Government, I think, to exercise leadership. Unless we do something fairly soon the economy is going to take a real hit.”
Vice-chairman Sir Charles Walker meanwhile told the paper that MPs were hearing from “dozens, if not hundreds” of businesses “fearing for their future”.
“Building capacity within the NHS, reducing infection rates has to be the precursor to lifting the economic lockdown,” he said.
The calls come after former Chancellor Philip Hammond said Britain must start “reopening the economy” to avoid sustained damage from the lockdown.
The ex-Cabinet minister said the country would need to focus on “coexisting with this virus rather than conquering it”, after the Office for Budget Responsibility warned that the UK is already on track for a record contraction and a two-million-strong spike in unemployment between April and June.
But Rob Halfon, the Tory MP for Harlow, said he parted company from “libertarian” colleagues pushing for an end to the lockdown.
“If we are required to stay in lockdown beyond the end of May, this is not a threat to our liberty, but the safeguarding of our lives,” he wrote on the ConservativeHome website.
Mr Halfon added: “By their very nature, these emergency measures will not be around forever. Rather than getting involved in esoteric intellectual arguments about freedom, let us revert to, arguably, the most cherished human value of all - the preservation of human mortality."