Medical advisers are “running the show” when it comes to Covid policy and risk making the country a “public health socialist state”, Tory MPs have claimed.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, came under fire from the Government backbenches after he urged the public to consider which social contacts were important to them, in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Conservative former health minister Steve Brine said Prof Whitty had “put this country, certainly hospitality… into effective lockdown”, said advisers are “running the show” and asked for extra Treasury support to assist businesses.
Joy Morrissey, Tory MP for Beaconsfield, deleted a tweet in which she said: “Perhaps the unelected covid public health spokesperson should defer to what our ELECTED Members of Parliament and the Prime Minister have decided.
“I know it’s difficult to remember but that’s how democracy works. This is not a public health socialist state.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called her comments “outrageous”.
He tweeted: “It is outrageous to see a Government PPS (parliamentary private secretary) attacking the Chief Medical Officer in this way. She should apologise and withdraw this immediately. Chris Whitty has never disputed where policy is made – he makes this point repeatedly.”
Former cabinet minister Julian Smith tweeted: “Personal attacks by any politician on members of @UKCivilService are completely unacceptable.
“@UKCivilService supports the government, works flat out & needs to be encouraged & defended in its role of offering impartial and confident advice.”
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Prof Whitty said it was sensible to prioritise the social interactions that matter, especially in the run-up to Christmas.
Boris Johnson told the public to think hard about their plans, but did not go as far as to suggest some gatherings should be cancelled.
But on Thursday, health minister Gillian Keegan said the Prime Minister and Prof Whitty were “both basically saying the same thing”.
Speaking in the Commons later in the day, Mr Brine said: “I could see why there was no statement to the House because there was no new Government policy announced, and then Professor Chris Whitty answered a question from the BBC and at a stroke the chief medical officer changed Government policy and put this country, certainly hospitality… into effective lockdown.
“Can I ask – yes or no – is what Professor Whitty said last night now the policy of this Government? That we should socialise carefully? What, in practical legal terms, does that mean?
“And on support, because advisers are now running the show – I bet none of them run a business facing complete ruin as a result of what was said last night – the Treasury is going to have to do more, because otherwise we risk ruining and wasting the amazing support that Her Majesty’s Treasury gave last year.”
Treasury minister John Glen replied: “We should get boosters, encourage our constituents to get boosted, take a lateral flow test, wear masks and engage in normal activities as far as we can.”
He added that people should “use common sense” in planning Christmas activities, and confirmed Treasury ministers are holding talks with the hospitality sector on Thursday.
Mr Glen was heckled when he later told MPs: “We haven’t shut anything down.
“What we have done is set out new conditions which people are finding difficult to come to terms with, and I understand that and that’s why we’ve got to work carefully with the sector to look at what sort of support we can bring in.”
Conservative MP Greg Smith said pubs in his Buckingham constituency have reported losing 50% to 60% of their bookings while a coach operator “reported losing £40,000-worth of bookings yesterday alone”.
Mr Smith said advisers had pressed “the panic button way beyond what this House had voted for a couple of days ago”.