During a vote on the current four-week system earlier this month, 32 Conservatives rebelled to oppose the measures and 17 more, including former prime minister Theresa May, abstained. Now it seems Boris Johnson may have another internal crisis on his hands after a letter on behalf of 70 Tory MPs indicated they would not support the rollout of new coronavirus lockdown restrictions the Prime Minister is expected to unveil tomorrow.
Members of the newly formed Covid Recovery Group, led by former chief whip Mark Harper and High Wycombe MP Steve Baker, have demanded a ‘cost-benefit analysis’ of the new system in a letter to the PM last night.
If this is not supplied, they indicated they would not support – and could even vote against – the Government in Parliament on any extra restrictions after the England lockdown ends on December 2.
Mr Johnson would see his working majority wiped out in an embarrassing blow if all 70 voted against the new tiered system, meaning he could be forced to rely on Keir Starter and Labour’s support.
The warning against the measures inflicting “huge health and economic costs” came in a letter to the Prime Minister, which sources close to the group said had been signed by 70 Conservative MPs, though the group’s leaders were the only signatories identified.
The letter, which began ‘Dear Prime Minister, said: “Thank you for everything you are doing to gift COVID-19. We know this is a complex situation demanding immense resolve from you and your team and we are grateful.
“We welcome your assurances that the national lockdown will end on December 2. As everyone will know, like the disease, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense harm.
“There is no doubt that Covid is a deadly disease to many and it is vital that we control its spread effectively.
“But we must give equal regard to other lethal killers like cancer, dementia and heart disease, to people’s mental health, and all the health implications of poverty and falling GDP.
“The tiered restrictions approach in principle attempts to link virus prevalence with measures to tackle it, but it’s vital we remember always that even the tiered system of restrictions infringes deeply upon people’s lives with huge health and economic costs.. Even tier 1 only allows group of up to six people to meet indoors.
“We cannot support this approach further unless the Government demonstrates the restrictions proposed for after December 3 will have an impact on slowing the transmission of Covid, and will save more lives than they cost.
“To this end, Government must publish a full cost-benefit analysis of the proposed restrictions on a regional basis so that MPs can assess responsibly the non-covid heath impact of restrictions, as well as the undoubted impact on livelihoods.
“Today, the lockdown cure prescribed runs the very real risk of being worse than the disease. We are especially concerned about outside sport, the 10pm curfew, closure of non-essential retail, gyms and personal care business, restrictions on worship, care home visits, hospitality and the inclusion of children under 12 in the Rule of Six.
“In these areas, we need to be assured of the evidence of their effectiveness, whether a mandatory approach produces better outcomes than a voluntary one, whether a blanket approach produces better outcomes a targeted one, whether adherence will be sustainable and crucially, that transparent assessment shows they do more good than harm.
“Wher harms are certain but benefits uncertain – such as closing schools – an intervention should not be used.
“The burden is on the Government to demonstrate the necessity and proportionality of each restriction.
“Public Health England already said this week that for each day that we relax measures fully for Christmas, they recommend five days of lockdown.
“We cannot live under such a series of damaging lockdowns and apparently arbitrary restrictions, and expect our constituents to be grateful for being let out to enjoy the festive season, only to have strict restrictions imposed on them afterwards that cause them health problems and destroy their livelihood.
“Our country instead needs a different and enduring strategy for living with the virus that can last beyond Christmas.
“Restrictions should be removed immediately if it cannot be shown that they are saving more lives than they cost.”