Boris Johnson was at war with his own MPs last night over virus curbs that could keep 99 per cent of the country in ‘virtual lockdown’ until spring.
The Prime Minister faced a mutiny by up to 70 Tory MPs after unveiling details of tough regional restrictions that will leave Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly as the only areas where people can socialise indoors.
Senior Tories warned the Prime Minister would face the ‘biggest revolt of this Parliament’ when the plan is put to a Commons vote next week.
Hospitality chiefs said three-quarters of pubs and restaurants would be made ‘unviable’ by the draconian rules which will leave 32 million people in Tier Two and 23 million in Tier Three.
Rural places such as the village of Penshurst in Kent – which has had only three cases in the past week – have been plunged into Tier Three because they fall under a local authority with high infection rates. The PM hit back with a warning that Britain could face a third national lockdown in January unless people stick to the tough new regime.
Rural places such as the village of Penshurst in Kent (pictured) – which has had only three cases in the past week – have been plunged into Tier Three because they fall under a local authority with high infection rates
Boris Johnson was at war with his own MPs last night over virus curbs that could keep 99 per cent of the country in ‘virtual lockdown’ until spring
Speaking at a No 10 press conference after being released from a fortnight of isolation, he acknowledged the UK faced a ‘hard winter’, and apologised to the hospitality sector.
He said the second lockdown had worked to bring the pandemic under control, but added: ‘If we ease off now, we risk losing control of this virus all over again, casting aside our hard won gains, and forcing us back into a New Year national lockdown with all the damage that would mean.’
Mr Johnson denied that the tough new restrictions amounted to lockdown by the back door, pointing out that shops, hairdressers and gyms can reopen in all three tiers from December 2.
He insisted that communities stuck in the highest tiers could move down to a more relaxed regime if case numbers fell, adding: ‘Your tier is not your destiny.’
But he was undermined by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty who said it was likely to be ‘months’ before a significant part of the country is able to go into the lowest tier.
Former Cabinet minister Damian Green, whose Kent constituency has been placed in the top Tier Three despite a relatively low case rate, predicted a widespread revolt by Tory MPs next week.
‘The Government are in more trouble than they realise,’ he said. ‘These decisions have enraged a lot of the Tory heartlands, as well as a lot of our newly-won constituencies in the North and Midlands.
‘You could be looking at the biggest rebellion of this Parliament.’
The two pubs in the village of Groombridge had put up the Christmas decorations and were already taking bookings in preparation for reopening next week. But in a bizarre illustration of the unfairness of latest rules, only one is allowed to do so – while the other will have to remain shut. Pictured is The Crown Inn, which must remain shut
The revolt came as:
- Professor Whitty warned people not to hug their elderly relatives this Christmas – if they ‘want them to survive to be hugged again’;
- Many of Britain’s biggest cities in the Midlands and the North were plunged into the toughest Tier Three;
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested London – which escaped with Tier Two – could also be moved into the top tier next month;
- Estimates suggested up to 34million people actually face tougher restrictions than they had before lockdown;
- The average number of new cases has fallen by 25 per cent in the last week, although a further 498 deaths were recorded yesterday;
- The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned Britain faces a £40 billion-a-year tax bombshell to pay for the pandemic;
- Liverpool was hailed by the PM as a rare success story after weeks of tough curbs and mass testing saw it move from Tier Three to Tier Two.
Yesterday’s decision left almost all of England in the top two tiers. The tough new system will replace the lockdown on December 2 and is due to stay until April.
Figures showed just 713,573 people will be placed in Tier One – equal to 1.3 per cent of the population. By comparison, 42 per cent of England was in Tier One before the month-long lockdown.
Some 32.2 million people are now in Tier Two, equal to 57.2 per cent of the population. In this tier, people are banned from socialising with other households indoors and pubs can only serve alcohol with a ‘substantial meal’.
It has had only eight people test positive for Covid-19. But the 855 villagers in East Ogwell (pictured), Devon, have been lumped into Tier Two with Liverpool and London.
Another 23.3 million, 41.5 per cent of the population, are in Tier Three. At this level, pubs and restaurants can only serve takeaway customers, and indoor entertainment such as cinemas, bowling alleys and soft play centres must shut.
Areas in Tier Three include Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Bristol, the North East, Humberside, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Kent.
The growing Tory rebellion at Westminster could leave the PM having to rely on Labour support to get the measures through the Commons next Tuesday.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, told the BBC: ‘I will vote against it. I have severe reservations on so many different levels. I do think that the policies have been far too authoritarian.’
Former ministers Liam Fox and John Penrose slammed the ‘illogical decision’ to place their Somerset constituencies into Tier Three because of their proximity to Bristol.
These are some of the most idyllic locations in the country and, blissfully, largely free of coronavirus infection thanks to their comparatively remote settings.
Yet after the Government’s announcement yesterday of the three tiers, these picture postcard villages and resorts are now subject to draconian restrictions simply because they find themselves in regions where the rate is higher elsewhere.
Needless to say, residents in these beautiful spots are furious about the unwarranted constraints on their freedom.
A seaside resort yet to record a case of Covid is being put under the same tough restrictions as cities where thousands have fallen ill.
West Bay, which provided the dramatic backdrop to TV crime series Broadchurch, is the only place in England where no positive tests have been reported since March.
Yet as of next week, the Dorset fishing village will be in Tier Two, meaning friends will be banned from meeting indoors and pubs will have to stay shut unless they serve meals.
One parish council chairman, farmer Hayden Fortune, is not aware of any cases in his local villages of Bolton-by-Bowland, Gisburn Forest and Sawley (pictured, the owners of the Coach and Horses pub in the area)
Dorset MP Conor Burns said: ‘It is very unfair. There is widespread frustration and disappointment that Dorset went into the national lockdown and is coming out with more restrictions at the end.’ The Tory MP for Bournemouth West added: ‘Because we have a slightly older demographic, people have been very sensible and cautious – but we are now being given tighter controls.’
Public Health England figures for 6,800 of the smallest areas across England – those with populations under 7,000 – show West Bay is one of only two where there has not been a Covid cluster. Locals say they expected outbreaks after visitors flocked there in summer, but none emerged. Yet businesses now face the same stringent rules as Liverpool and London.
Pubs hope to reopen next week but will still lose money over Christmas. ‘We do a lot of Christmas parties – 20 to 30 people a time – but we can’t do anything like that now,’ said one barman.
‘WE’RE A WORLD APART HERE IN THE COUNTRY’
Villages in Lancashire’s picturesque Ribble Valley are furious that they have been lumped into Tier Three with urban areas that have much higher infection rates.
The rural borough had just 117 new cases in the week to November 22 –but it was sky-high rates of 500-plus per 100,000 in nearby towns such as Preston, Burnley and Blackburn that pushed the whole of the county into the toughest tier.
One parish council chairman, farmer Hayden Fortune, is not aware of any cases in his local villages of Bolton-by-Bowland, Gisburn Forest and Sawley.
‘It’s absolute lunacy,’ he said. ‘People are furious because they feel like they have done everything that has been asked of them but are getting nothing back.
West Bay (pictured), which provided the dramatic backdrop to TV crime series Broadchurch, is the only place in England where no positive tests have been reported since March
‘That people can’t go and sit and have a meal with their own family, sitting apart from the next table, is madness. It is killing these villages.’
Sue Lord, 54, of the Coach and Horses in Bolton-by-Bowland, added: ‘It just seems so unfair. There’s no logic to it. Out here in the country we’re a world apart.’
Local Tory MP Nigel Evans said he was ‘bitterly disappointed’, adding: ‘What is needed very urgently is some political nuance rather than the blunt instrument of one size fits all.’
But one Twitter user said the MP’s concern was ‘too little, too late’. ‘You should have been arguing Ribble Vlley’s case long before now.’
‘OUR SMALL FIRMS ARE SUFFERING’
The medieval town of Burford, Oxfordshire has a population of just over 1,000.
It is now in Tier Two even though West Oxfordshire had just 87 recorded cases in the week up to November 21.
County Council statistics show a Covid rate per 100,000 people of just 80.4, well below average.
Jeanette Wilkins, 54, of the Royal Oak pub said: ‘It doesn’t make sense. Our case rate was so low before lockdown, so to be placed in Tier Two alongside Liverpool is disappointing.
‘A lot of our locals come in for drinks in the afternoon. They are a lot older and it’s their way of socialising and we’re not going to be able to do that.
The medieval town of Burford (pictured), Oxfordshire has a population of just over 1,000. It is now in Tier Two even though West Oxfordshire had just 87 recorded cases in the week up to November 21
‘We’re going to be reviewed on December 16 and hopefully we’ll be put into Tier One.’ She says Christmas will now be challenging, explaining: ‘You have the households that can’t mix building up to Christmas. That’s when we get really busy.’
David Hawes, 28, of WJ Castle butchers said: ‘As a hospitality business we supply hotels and restaurants and wedding venues. I am disappointed. Financially wise it’s not easy.’
Burford Mayor John White said: ‘The biggest problem we have had in Burford is the damage this had done to small businesses.’
‘UNFAIR TO LUMP US WITH MAJOR CITIES’
It has had only eight people test positive for Covid-19. But the 855 villagers in East Ogwell, Devon, have been lumped into Tier Two with Liverpool and London.
Local MP Anne Morris said it was unfair to put such villages in with cities that have failed to keep the virus in check. ‘It will be very destructive and there will be plenty of businesses that will think, ‘Will it be worth it?’ We have had nothing about the underlying health data underpinning this,’ she said.
Councillor Alan Connett, leader of Teignbridge council, which covers East Ogwell, said: ‘It does feel like a slap in the face for everyone who has worked so hard to keep our infection rates low.’ John and Amanda Turner, who have run The Jolly Sailor pub in the village for 20 years said the move is ‘a catastrophe’.
Mr Turner added: ‘ We could go belly up. Cornwall’s in Tier One and so should we be.’
ONE LOCAL PUB CAN OPEN…ONE CAN’T
The two pubs in the village of Groombridge had put up the Christmas decorations and were already taking bookings in preparation for reopening next week.
But in a bizarre illustration of the unfairness of latest rules, only one is allowed to do so – while the other will have to remain shut.
This is because the village, where residents say they have not had any coronavirus cases for some time, straddles the border between Kent, which will be in Tier Three, and East Sussex, which will be in Tier Two.
So from Wednesday the Junction Inn will open its doors again, while just 430 yards up the road the Crown Inn must remain shut, even though the village is more than 40 miles from the worst-hit parts of Kent.
Swale, in the north of the county, currently has the highest number of new cases – 535 per 100,000 – while nearby Thanet has 493.
By comparison, Tunbridge Wells, a few miles from Groombridge, has 117.9, yet it will be subject to Tier Three rules. Alan McDermott, leader of Tunbridge Wells council, said: ‘To treat it all as one place doesn’t make any sense. Poorer areas such as Thanet and Swale, are recording far higher cases because there’s a lot more factory work and manual labour.
‘It’s completely different down here, most of the area is rural. I can’t see why we’ve been lumped in with the whole of Kent. No one asked us. It isn’t right.’
Steve Harmes, live-in landlord of the Crown, said he did not know of any Covid cases in Groombridge had fully expected to reopen next week.
‘The decorations were up and all the Christmas orders had started coming in,’ he said. ‘That’s all had to be cancelled now. It’s disheartening. Yet the pub down the road is allowed to open.
Tiffany Pearson-Gills, landlady of the Junction Inn, said she was pleased to be opening but was unsure how she would stop villagers from the Kent side coming in.
Five miles away, historic Penshurst has had fewer than three cases of Covid in the past week. Parish council chairman Andrew Campbell said: ‘We’re not impressed. We were Tier One before the lockdown and now we’re in Tier Three.
‘Since the very beginning we’ve hardly had any cases and no fatalities.
‘I don’t understand it. I could understand if we were in Tier Two but to go into the highest tier just doesn’t make any sense.’
Blinkered, blundering and utterly defying logic
By NHS GP Dr Renee Hoenderkamp
Just imagine that this time last year someone had described to you what Britain would look like in December 2020.
They would tell of a country in which vast swathes of the population had spent endless months locked down at home.
Where one business after another was heading for the wall, where children were being sent home from school because a classmate had a sniffle – and where, as Christmas and the New Year approached, British citizens were being instructed on pain of hefty fines how many people they can celebrate the season with.
It would have been truly inconceivable.
Yet this is where we find ourselves – and following the Government’s latest draconian pronouncement yesterday, it stands to be the future for a long time to come.
I thought I could not be more shocked and dismayed by Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock’s increasingly authoritarian and meddling strategies – always with their phalanx of unaccountable scientists.
Yet today I find myself not only shocked but furious – and bewildered by the actions of an increasingly blinkered regime.
Thanks to the latest tier system, countless millions of vulnerable people will be plunged further into poverty – all in the name of battling a virus that is survived by more than 99 per cent of people it infects.
As a practising GP, I have seen almost daily in my surgery how, trapped by the authorities’ one-eyed focus on tackling Covid at any cost, my patients have struggled to access even the most basic services.
With infection rates falling, I had dared to hope that those in charge would take the long weeks afforded by the latest lockdown to come up with a more nuanced approach.
Far from it. Yesterday we learned instead that after the blanket national lockdown ends on Wednesday, almost 99 per cent of the country will find itself under Tier Two and the most brutal Tier Three restrictions.
Tory MP Steve Baker surely spoke for millions when he said: ‘The authoritarianism… is truly appalling… On the economy and on coronavirus, I fear we are now so far down the rabbit hole that we have forgotten we even entered it.’
Just 700,000 people – less than the population of Leeds – will be subject to the looser Tier One rules.
In the maps prepared by this paper today, vast swathes of the North and the Midlands now look as if they have been fenced off, shaded by a red ‘Do Not Go’ sign. Those are precisely the areas that have suffered the greatest economic damage.
What is even more appalling is this blundering approach collapses under the slightest scrutiny. Many of the areas trapped in Tier Three – a lockdown by any other name – have a gaping disparity in Covid cases.
The whole of Warwickshire, for example, is to be Tier Three – but in the most recent fortnight, South Warwickshire NHS Trust recorded an average of 81 per cent of its beds full, putting it in the 20 least busy.
The Government once again seems in thrall to doomsday scientists who endlessly dole out worst-case scenarios and who, I should point out, are typically on very comfortable taxpayer-funded salaries with gold-plated pensions: not the zero-hours contracts of many in the hospitality industry.
And all for what? To ‘protect the NHS’, as we have been told time and again, when surely it should be the other way round.
It is now perfectly clear hospitals are far from overwhelmed. In London, occupancy at this time of year would normally be approaching 95 per cent. The number today? A mere 85 per cent.
Yet long months of government propaganda have groomed so many of us to fear the worst, even though the forecasting has often been disgracefully inaccurate.
Our once proud, libertarian nation has sleepwalked into a position where we now allow ourselves to be told which way to walk in a supermarket – and where we feel obliged to thank some minister when he tells us we can see Granny at Christmas.
In the service of what we have been assured is the greater good, it seems too many of us have lost our common sense.
As another Conservative MP, Damian Green, warned yesterday, allowing local authorities to make more nuanced judgements would be more effective. Otherwise, he added, there is a risk that ‘if the Government introduces stupid rules, we’ll stop obeying the sensible ones as well’.
If only the Prime Minister had listened.