Top Tory Sir Charles Walker warns Matt Hancock ‘Boris should sack you’ if he makes another gaffe


The simmering Tory tensions over lockdown came to a head in spectacular fashion last week when venerable backbencher Sir Charles Walker encountered Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the Commons.

Sir Charles passionately believes that measures to limit the spread of the virus risk causing more harm than they prevent, particularly in terms of mental health; Mr Hancock has consistently argued that the protection of the NHS should be the over-arching priority.

Sir Charles was enraged by the chaos over messages from Mr Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps over whether people should book a summer holiday – and by the decision to impose a ten-year jail sentence on people who flout strict new quarantine rules, a rule introduced without MPs getting a chance to vote on it.

So when Mr Hancock addressed a private meeting of the backbench 1922 Committee, of which Sir Charles is vice-chairman, he let rip at the Cabinet Minister, telling him that the Prime Minister’s ‘legs have been cut from underneath him as a result of the interventions’ by Mr Hancock and Mr Shapps, adding: ‘If the PM is let down again by his Secretaries of State, he should remove them from Cabinet’.

The simmering Tory tensions over lockdown came to a head in spectacular fashion last week when venerable backbencher Sir Charles Walker encountered Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the Commons

Sir Charles passionately believes that measures to limit the spread of the virus risk causing more harm than they prevent, particularly in terms of mental health; Mr Hancock has consistently argued that the protection of the NHS should be the over-arching priority

Sir Charles passionately believes that measures to limit the spread of the virus risk causing more harm than they prevent, particularly in terms of mental health; Mr Hancock has consistently argued that the protection of the NHS should be the over-arching priority

With ‘vaccines coming out of our ears’, as Sir Charles has put it, impatience on the party’s backbenches is growing.

By last night, a total of 63 Tory MPs had signed a letter from the party’s Covid Recovery Group urging a swift exit from lockdown – easily enough to wipe out the Prime Minister’s majority if they voted with Labour. 

Their views were summed up with the line: ‘The vaccine gives us immunity from Covid but it must also give us permanent immunity from Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions’.

While the increasingly powerful group looks likely to be granted its wish for all pupils to be allowed to return to the classrooms on March 8, the issue which has most divided the Cabinet has been the fate of the hospitality industry – and specifically whether outside dining at pubs and restaurants should be allowed in April.

Last night, senior Government sources indicated that the group’s demand for what’s been dubbed ‘alfresco April’ to start at Easter, the weekend of April 4, was also likely to be met.

But the divide between the economic ‘hawks’ pushing for as much commercial activity as can be safely allowed – led by Chancellor Rishi Sunak – and the more cautious doves’ has opened up again.

Mr Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove led calls to wait until late April or May to reopen the hospitality industry, arguing that it would be wrong to ‘casually dine al fresco’ until the data was clearer on the vaccine’s impact on transmission.

But the hand of the hawks has been strengthened by new data indicating that the Pfizer vaccine starts to work in as little as two weeks, reducing the symptomatic infection by around 65 per cent in both young adults and the over-80s. Data on post-vaccine transmission levels could be presented to the Prime Minister as soon as tomorrow.

Mr Sunak was joined by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng in calling for a fast easing of lockdown.

One source said: ‘The difference between the two camps amounts to about three weeks – basically between the beginning of April or the end.’

Sir Charles was enraged by the chaos over messages from Mr Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) over whether people should book a summer holiday – and by the decision to impose a ten-year jail sentence on people who flout strict new quarantine rules, a rule introduced without MPs getting a chance to vote on it.

Sir Charles was enraged by the chaos over messages from Mr Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) over whether people should book a summer holiday – and by the decision to impose a ten-year jail sentence on people who flout strict new quarantine rules, a rule introduced without MPs getting a chance to vote on it.

By last night, a total of 63 Tory MPs had signed a letter from the party's Covid Recovery Group urging a swift exit from lockdown – easily enough to wipe out the Prime Minister's majority if they voted with Labour

By last night, a total of 63 Tory MPs had signed a letter from the party’s Covid Recovery Group urging a swift exit from lockdown – easily enough to wipe out the Prime Minister’s majority if they voted with Labour

Last night, senior Government sources indicated that the group's demand for what's been dubbed 'alfresco April' to start at Easter, the weekend of April 4, was also likely to be met

Last night, senior Government sources indicated that the group’s demand for what’s been dubbed ‘alfresco April’ to start at Easter, the weekend of April 4, was also likely to be met

And a Minister added: ‘We are in the endgame now. Firemen damping down a blaze always stay longer after it’s out. You don’t want the fire smouldering and then reigniting. 

‘We’re all firemen in the Cabinet. We want to put the fire out, but won’t stop [lockdown] until we are absolutely convinced that it is’.

No 10 has been angered by the perception that they have been ‘held captive’ by over-cautious scientists on the Sage group of advisers. 

One source said: ‘It is not true. We are all working as hard as we can to get back to normal. Do not confuse uncertainty for lack of a plan’.

With Mr Johnson's target of vaccinating the most vulnerable 15 million people by tomorrow within reach, the Prime Minister has ordered a celebratory 'starburst' – a blitz of Ministerial visits – to target vaccination centres in a final push to encourage all vulnerable people to get the jab

With Mr Johnson’s target of vaccinating the most vulnerable 15 million people by tomorrow within reach, the Prime Minister has ordered a celebratory ‘starburst’ – a blitz of Ministerial visits – to target vaccination centres in a final push to encourage all vulnerable people to get the jab

A handful of Ministers and scientific advisers have been drawing up the ‘road map’ for Boris Johnson to unveil this month, with the wider Cabinet likely to be talked through its broad points in advance of the announcement on February 22.

With Mr Johnson’s target of vaccinating the most vulnerable 15 million people by tomorrow within reach, the Prime Minister has ordered a celebratory ‘starburst’ – a blitz of Ministerial visits – to target vaccination centres in a final push to encourage all vulnerable people to get the jab.

The drive includes a renewed effort to persuade care home workers to take up the jab by ‘appealing to their altruism and public service’, emphasising it not only protects them, but the people they work with.

But the pressure on the Government over the economic impact continues to mount from the backbenches: just yesterday, Nickie Aiken, the Tory MP for Westminster, says theatres in London’s West End had warned that they needed between four and five months’ notice before reopening, while, former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the hospitality industry needed at least a month to gear up.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) report today suggested suggested there were 695,400 Covid-19 cases in England alone by February 6, down 31 per cent from a fortnight ago in yet another firm sign the second wave is in retreat. This equates to one in eighty people having the virus

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) report today suggested suggested there were 695,400 Covid-19 cases in England alone by February 6, down 31 per cent from a fortnight ago in yet another firm sign the second wave is in retreat. This equates to one in eighty people having the virus

Sir Charles has become a rallying point for backbench discontent. He declined to comment on any remarks made behind closed doors at the 1922 Committee, but he told The Mail on Sunday that introducing the ten-year jail penalty without allowing proper debate in the Commons was a ‘really low and underhand thing to do’.

He said: ‘The idea that we are going to lock people up for ten years in a prison system already full to bursting is just not credible’.

One Tory MP said privately: ‘Charles has a very good point. The absurd ten-year jail sentence stuff undermines our credibility and saying no summer holidays for people was pretty demoralising.’

But a government source defended Mr Hancock and Mr Shapps, saying ‘enhanced border measures’ were vital and that it was only wise to be cautious about booking holidays. 

MATT HANCOCK: I’ve danced a little jig at the joy the jab’s giving

By Matt Hancock for the Daily Mail 

Just over two months ago, grandmother Margaret Keenan, then aged 90, received the world’s first clinically authorised coronavirus vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry.

Since that magical day, more than 14.5 million people have joined Margaret in getting protected – that’s over one in four adults across the country.

We have thrown everything at the vaccine rollout and the whole project has shown a can-do attitude at its best. Now we’re homing in on our target of offering a vaccine to everyone in the four most vulnerable groups by tomorrow.

This monumental operation across all parts of the UK has given hope and comfort to so many families. Mine is no different, and I’ve danced a little jig as I’ve seen for myself the joy it can bring, as my grandfather, mum, dad, step-parents and in-laws and many loved ones have each in turn had their jabs these past few weeks.

Just over two months ago, grandmother Margaret Keenan, then aged 90, received the world's first clinically authorised coronavirus vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry

Just over two months ago, grandmother Margaret Keenan, then aged 90, received the world’s first clinically authorised coronavirus vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry

I’d like to thank everyone who has played a part in this exceptional national effort – demonstrating the best of British at our time of crisis.

I’ve been thrilled to see the level of enthusiasm people have shown to get protected, with nearly all over-70s having had their first dose. This is a take-up beyond my highest hopes.

Because we have made such huge strides in protecting those at greatest risk, we are now in a position to extend eligibility even further and offer invites to over- 65s this week.

This will mean that millions more people in England will be eligible for vaccines and benefit from the protection it provides. 

‘I know people in their late 60s who have barely left the house for months and have been looking forward to this moment so much.

And meanwhile we will keep working to reach the people in the four most vulnerable groups who have not yet come forward.

If you live in England, are 70 and over and haven’t yet got an appointment to get vaccinated, please contact the NHS, either online through the National Booking Service, or if you can’t get online, by phoning 119.

Since that magical day, more than 14.5 million people have joined Margaret in getting protected – that's over one in four adults across the country

Since that magical day, more than 14.5 million people have joined Margaret in getting protected – that’s over one in four adults across the country

I know there are some people who might have concerns. We’re determined to do everything we can to address any questions about the vaccine because we know it is safe, and we want as many people to take up the life-saving chance to be protected against the Covid-19 virus.

This weekend the Government published the vaccine uptake plan, setting out how we will boost vaccine take-up in all our communities, with a particular focus on vulnerable and under-served groups.

This matters to us all. The fewer people who are left unprotected, the safer we will all be, and the more securely we will be able to release restrictions when the time is right.

This programme offers a clear pathway out of the pandemic. Meantime, while the vaccinators and volunteers do their work, we must all answer our country’s call, and follow the rules that will keep this virus at bay.

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