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The government will be forced to rely on Labour support to pass new tiered coronavirus restrictions in England with about 70 MPs believed to be considering rebelling when the measures are put to parliament next week.
The Guardian understands that Labour support for the new system is not yet guaranteed, with widespread frustration among senior party figures that ultimatums put on the government to fix contact tracing and better support for those self-isolating has had little effect.
Tory MPs from across the country have been privately lobbying for the tiered system to be applied on a much smaller geographical basis where Covid cases are highest, including in London, which is still reporting a rise in cases.
“There will be a lot of Conservatives who will rebel for the first time this time round,” one former minister said. “It only takes 40 for the government’s majority to fall and we had 38 at the last vote.”
One long-serving Conservative backbencher said the government appeared set on restrictions at a county level. “So even if you’re 40 miles away from an area of high infection, you’re treated the same way, even if there’s no point of contact and not much exchange of people. If they gave way on this, it might suggest a bit of common sense in the approach,” the MP said.
“Some places have infection rates below the national average, and if they were shoved into very heavy restrictions purely on the basis they’re in the same county as other areas with higher rates, while places just over the county border are in a lower tier, that would be pretty hard to accept.”
Another MP said it would “go down very badly” if most of the country was placed in either tier 2 or 3, which both have significant restrictions on the hospitality sector. A fund for local authorities hit by tier 2 or 3 restrictions will have an additional £900m in addition to £780m committed to date, which suggests the majority of local areas will be under those restrictions.
David Jones, the former Brexit minister, predicted the government would face a significant rebellion next week. “The government has to produce significant, persuasive new evidence produced that what they are doing is right, and so far we have not seen that,” he said.
MPs on the parliamentary WhatsApp group have been calling tier 3 “lockdown in all but name” and fear there will be no further opportunity to challenge the restrictions until the spring. Even MPs in shire constituencies where local restrictions may be more lax have been privately voicing concern that local businesses will collapse if travel is restricted across swathes of the UK meaning no tourist trade to rural areas.
Among those who have said they are considering rebelling is the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, Sir Graham Brady.
Brady, whose constituency in Greater Manchester had already been under tighter measures before lockdown said “my inclination would be to oppose” the new tougher tiered system.
“My concern is that huge numbers of businesses, particularly but not exclusively in the hospitality sector, have been losing money under tier 2 already, and there’s a very tight limit to how much longer than they can go on doing without seeing even bigger levels of unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment.”
The government is also facing a backlash from local leaders over a lack of consultation over the tiered allocations.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said “individual negotiations” had led to rates of infection increasing, a thinly veiled attack on the Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, who had demanded better financial support for local businesses.
Burnham hit back at those remarks, telling Sky News: “It just seems to me that they can’t leave it alone now and they want to come back and they want to punish me and blame me for everything.
“Can’t we just agree there was a difference of opinion, it was resolved and now we all must look forward to getting things right going forward. If they don’t get their own way they take their toys home and just try and impose their will. That is not a responsible way to govern.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: PM may need Labour votes to get Covid tiers plan through Commons | World news