‘Great frustration’ on Tory benches ahead of coronavirus tiers vote

PA

Boris Johnson will be forced to rely on Labour to get coronavirus restrictions through Parliament with up to 100 Conservatives unhappy about the tiers system, a Cabinet minister admitted.

George Eustice acknowledged there was "great frustration" on the Tory benches about the measures, which will see 99% of England facing major restrictions on hospitality and mixing with other households.

The Prime Minister will publish an impact assessment of the restrictions ahead of a crunch Commons vote on Tuesday in an attempt to win over would-be rebels.

Scores of Tory MPs have spoken out against the new system in England, which the Government wants to bring into force on Wednesday when the national lockdown ends.

But despite offering them another chance to vote on the restrictions early next year – meaning the measures could lapse on February 3 – several said they still have reservations.

Labour is not expected to oppose the measures, meaning Mr Johnson should get them through Parliament, but being forced to rely on decisions being made by Sir Keir Starmer will be uncomfortable for the Prime Minister.

Environment Secretary Mr Eustice told Sky News that Chief Whip Mark Spencer would be trying to win round Tory MPs ahead of the vote.

"I've seen suggestions that there could be up to 100 or so people that have got concerns," Mr Eustice said.

That meant "it will depend on what the Labour Party choose to do" but during a "national emergency" it would not be right to "play political games".

Conservative MP Peter Bone said he was "undecided" and would make his mind up after seeing the impact assessment, telling the PA news agency: "The dilemma I have is do we do more damage by the tiered system of lockdown, or do we do less."

Another senior Tory backbencher said that his vote was "still in the balance" as he urged Mr Johnson to provide analysis of how the tier restrictions will affect businesses, saying he did not have confidence that the Government was really considering their needs.

Labour leader Sir Keir is expected to hold talks with England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty on Monday, as he decides whether to support the Government's tier system.

The Prime Minister's argument for stringent restrictions will be boosted by new figures suggesting coronavirus infections fell by almost a third in England during the second national lockdown.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

There was a 30% drop in cases across the country over almost a fortnight this month, the latest interim findings from Imperial College London's React study showed.

Regionally, the research suggests infections fell by more than half in the North West and North East, and were also down in Yorkshire and the Humber. But prevalence remained high in the East Midlands and West Midlands.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said the findings suggested the tiers before the beginning of November, followed by the lockdown, had helped bring cases down.

Elsewhere:

– A further 208 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, while there were another 12,155 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

– The Prime Minister announced a £20 million boost for medicine manufacturing in the UK in a bid to strengthen the country's response to future pandemics.

– The Telegraph said pubs and restaurants hit by the new restrictions would be given extra financial support to help them get through to Christmas.

– Shops will be able to open around-the-clock in England in December and January to help recoup some of the losses made during lockdown.

– Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC she would not be having an "indoor Christmas dinner" with her parents despite the relaxed rules over the festive period as "I don't want to put them at risk when a vaccine is so close".

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

Under England's new restrictions, only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly will be under the lightest Tier 1 controls, while large swathes of the Midlands, North East and North West are in the most restrictive Tier 3.

Mr Johnson wrote to potential Tory rebels on Saturday evening offering several olive branches to secure their support for the system.

As well as the post-Christmas vote, the Prime Minister said that at the first review of the measures on December 16 he would move areas down a tier where there is "robust evidence" that coronavirus is in sustained decline.

And Mr Johnson committed to publish more data and outline what circumstances need to change for an area to move down a tier. He also said the Government was looking at ways to improve communications so the public are able to make better informed decisions.

The letter contained further commitments to provide regular updates of compliance rates, to make greater use of local public health teams to improve contact tracing, increase testing asymptomatic carriers and improve the personalisation of advice to those most at risk.

Meanwhile, Government guidance published on Sunday to cover the Christmas period said door-to-door carol singers can spread their annual cheer – but only in groups of six and while keeping at least two metres away from "the threshold of any dwellings".

And school nativity plays will be allowed to go ahead "within existing school bubbles" and avoiding any mixing across groups, but audiences will only be allowed to attend in Tier 1 and 2 areas – subject to "appropriate safeguards".

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