Boris Johnson is facing a growing Tory revolt over coronavirus rules as senior Conservative backbenchers today demanded he set out a strategy to avoid a cycle of national lockdowns.
Tory MPs in the so-called Covid Recovery Group (CRG) cautiously welcomed the prospect of the Government loosening restrictions over the Christmas period.
But they warned that ‘freedom cannot just be for Christmas’ as they said the Government needs to come up with a plan for how to ‘live with’ coronavirus which does not require repeated national shutdowns.
They have also told Mr Johnson he must publish modelling and evidence which shows the economic and wider health impacts of coronavirus restrictions and not just the data which deals specifically with the spread of the disease.
Ministers are said to be weighing up plans which could see coronavirus rules relaxed at Christmas to enable families to meet indoors.
But the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has suggested that every day of greater freedom over the festive period would have to be followed by five days of draconian curbs to slow the rate of infection.
Boris Johnson is facing a growing Tory revolt over the Government’s coronavirus lockdown strategy
Former chief whip Mark Harper is leading a Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs demanding the Government come up with a strategy to live with coronavirus and avoid damaging national lockdowns
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, one of the leaders of the CRG, said easing restrictions only to then shut the country down again would not be an acceptable approach to take.
He tweeted: ‘Freedom cannot just be for Christmas. Lockdowns and restrictions cause immense economic, social and non-Covid health damage.
‘We must start talking about those so that we know the restrictions we’re being told to live under are not causing more harm than good to our citizens.’
He added: ‘We must also develop a much better strategy for living with this virus that doesn’t require us being repeatedly locked up and freed by the government.’
Mark Harper, a Tory former chief whip and fellow CRG leader, echoed a similar sentiment as he said: ‘It is welcome the Government is thinking about Christmas and how perhaps more families can get together.
‘But I think saying to families you can have a reasonably normal family Christmas but then putting restrictions in place which may well impact their livelihoods, I don’t think is going to be a very welcome Christmas present because we have got to look at the balance here.
‘Yes, we have got to focus on reducing the deaths from Covid but we have also got to look at the health harms that you get from locking down, from mental health, from increases to domestic violence.
‘But we have also got to look at the economy and what I think MPs want to see is all of that data brought before us, not just the Covid information but all of the information.’
He added: ‘The thing that many of us were unhappy about is we were told, slides were leaked out that suggested the NHS was going to be overwhelmed and that was the argument the Prime Minister used.
‘But no information was ever published to substantiate that and in many parts of the country the things that were forecast we have already seen haven’t happen.
‘We want a proper set of evidence brought out so that every restriction brought in, the Government tells us what impact it is going to have on Covid but also the costs and that the balance of that is in favour of bringing in the restrictions and I don’t think that is too much to ask given the huge impact this is having on the lives and livelihoods of all our constituents.’
The CRG was set up to resist future national lockdown measures and sources claim there are approximately 50 Tory MPs who are members.
The group’s intervention came as health officials said people will have to make ‘every effort’ to adhere with the current rules if they are to be allowed to gather at Christmas.
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said ‘freedom cannot just be for Christmas’ amid reports ministers are considering easing coronavirus rules over the festive period
Dr Susan Hopkins, a director at Public Health England and a senior medical adviser to the Government’s Covid-19 response, suggested tougher restrictions could be needed either side of Christmas if curbs are to be eased over the festive period.
She told a Downing Street briefing: ‘We are very keen that we have a Christmas as close to normal as possible.
‘That requires all of us to make every effort over this national restriction period and even in early December to get the cases as low as possible and to reduce the risk of transmission within households and between families.
‘A final decision will rest with the Government and we look forward to hearing what those plans are.
She said SAGE scientists had suggested that one day of greater freedom required five days of restrictions.
‘Some of the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) advice previously suggested that for every day we release we will need five days of tighter restrictions, so coming into Christmas we need to be very careful about the number of contacts we have to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible,’ she said.