Boris Johnson is facing a Tory revolt on his national coronavirus lockdown in a crunch Commons vote today – with fears he will have to rely on Labour to get the plan through.
The draconian measures, ordering people to stay at home and shutting non-essential retail, bars and restaurants for a month, are set to come into force from midnight.
But while Sir Keir Starmer’s backing means the PM is assured they will be rubber-stamped by MPs this afternoon, he is scrambling to contain a rising tide of anger on his own benches.
Despite government whips hoping they had limited the scale of the mutiny, a series politicians broke cover this morning to say they will oppose the crackdown.
Former chief whip Mark Harper, ex-minister Steve Baker and backbencher Peter Bone were among those railing at the ‘dubious’ figures produced by Mr Johnson and his advisers to support the squeeze.
Figures released yesterday showed a 12 per cent drop in infections compared to last Tuesday, as 20,018 tested positive, while Boris Johnson has admitted the R number is ‘only just above one’.
Boris Johnson is expected to win a vote on a second lockdown that is due to start at midnight, but 15 of his backbench MPs could defy the whip
Tory MPs Stephen McPartland and Peter Bone were among those saying they will oppose the lockdown today
Department of Health figures saw a 12.5 per cent decrease in the number of cases from last Tuesday when figures reached 22,885 but were higher than yesterday’s figures when cases reached 18,950
Fatalities rose by 8.17 per cent from last Tuesday after it was announced that another 395 people had died from the virus today – bringing the total death toll in the country to 47,250
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made another appeal to Tories to back the national lockdown this morning
Covid patients in England ‘equivalent to 22 full hospitals’
There are the equivalent of 22 hospitals full of coronavirus patients in England, the head of the NHS said today.
Sir Simon Stevens said another two hospitals had been added to the tally just since the PM’s dramatic press conference on Saturday.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there had been a ‘very substantial’ increase in Covid-19 admissions in October.
‘We began early September with under 500 coronavirus patients in hospitals,’ he said.
‘By the beginning of October that had become 2,000. As of today that is just under 11,000.
‘So, put another way, we’ve got 22 hospitals’ worth of coronavirus patients across England.
‘And indeed, even since Saturday, when the Prime Minister gave his press conference, we filled another two hospitals full of severely ill coronavirus patients.’
Medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were hauled before MPs yesterday to defend SAGE’s modelling.
Dramatic slides presented at a No10 press conference on Saturday suggested deaths could hit 4,000 a day next month unless action was taken, as well as hospitals being overrun within weeks.
Mr Johnson has tried to cool tensions with Tories by offering an assurance that the second lockdown will end on December 2 – despite warnings from Michael Gove it could be extended.
The Prime Minister said yesterday: ‘Whatever happens these restrictions end on December 2.
‘I think there is the prospect of a much brighter future ahead if we can make a success of these national measures and open up again in December, to give people the chance of some shopping and economic activity in the weeks leading up to Christmas and beyond.’
However, a number of Conservatives are still likely to vote against – and many more could abstain.
Dangerously for Mr Johnson, the opponents are set to include Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful backbench 1922 committee.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Baker said he was ‘not convinced’ the lockdown was necessary.
‘Compliance must be high, a month may not be long enough, the breakthroughs may not come, and so on,’ he said.
‘And if we really are locking down for this purpose, keeping schools open is a huge compromise. Most importantly, the cost-benefit is today a guess.’
While praising the PM for doing what he thought was right, Mr Baker added: ‘I am sorry that I do not feel able to impose the undoubted costs of lockdown on the basis of the necessary balancing judgment calls.
‘It is with a heavy heart that I plan to vote against this measure, but I will condemn no one for supporting lockdown if they think it will minimise harm.’
Mr Harper also confirmed he will be voting against the proposals. In an article for ConservativeHome website, he said he was concerned that the regulations give powers to use ‘reasonable force’ to PCSOs and ‘any person designated by the secretary of state’.
‘My view is that the use of reasonable force should be limited to police officers, who undergo a significant amount of training in both when and how to safely use this power,’ Mr Harper said.
‘In light of the above, I do not believe that the government has made the case for a change away from the tiered system and in favour of an England-wide national lockdown.’
Mr Bone tweeted: ‘Today I will vote against a second national lockdown. The government’s case is based on dubious modelling. It seems to me there are lies, damn lies and Covid statistics!!’
Mr McPartland added: ‘I am voting against another lockdown. Mental health issues are being forgotten along with the supermarket workers, delivery drivers, emergency services, NHS, carers, teachers, postmen and millions of low paid people who are still required to go to work.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made another appeal to Tories this morning.
Asked on LBC radio whether people in England could rely on December 2 being the end date, he said: ‘Put it in your diary, it is written into law.
‘The reason being is we’ve just had to take this measure for four weeks – longer than some of the circuit-breakers that were being talked about, but keeping schools open – because of the latest data.
‘For example, the last two weeks we’ve seen hospital admissions up by 90 per cent, ventilator beds used up by 65 per cent, so we have had to take that into account.’
The Cabinet minister denied that the Government had used a ‘doomsday scenario’ and ‘highly selective’ data in its modelling of the second wave’s impact when justifying the second lockdown on Saturday.
Mr Raab said: ‘I don’t think that’s right. In fairness to the science, the data is fluid, it is being updated all the time – what was being presented was a model, not a forecast.
‘We introduce restrictions, we adapt them the best we can to the information we have got.’
Labour will back the Government’s lockdown vote, after repeated calls from Keir Starmer to implement measures in the country that will see pubs and restaurants close, while schools and universities will remain open
Medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty (right) and Sir Patrick Vallance (left) were hauled before MPs yesterday to defend SAGE’s modelling
During the grilling by members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Labour MP Graham Stringer asked Sir Patrick if he believed he had frightened people with the bleak deaths data presented during Saturday night’s press briefing.
The Chief Scientific Adviser said: ‘I hope not and that’s certainly not the aim… I think I positioned that as a scenario from a couple of weeks ago, based on an assumption to try and get a new reasonable worst-case scenario. And if that didn’t come across then I regret that.
Defending the dossier, he added: ‘Those figures were ones done by major academic groups based on those assumptions and, in the spirit of trying to make sure that things are shared and open, they are the things that we have seen [in the data so far], and it’s important and I think people see that.’
Top scientists at King’s College London claimed today the R rate has already dropped to the crucial level of one in England
King’s’ academics, who have been tracking the size of the coronavirus outbreak since the summer, argued infections were now ‘plateauing’ and there was a ‘slight fall’ in new cases across the UK last week. Pictured: The team’s graphs show a levelling off in cases in both England and across the UK in the last week
AT A GLANCE: HOW VALLANCE AND WHITTY DEFENDED THE LOCKDOWN
SATURDAY’S GLOOMY SLIDES
The pair admitted what one MP called the ‘avalanche of data’ they presented in Saturday’s briefing may have been too much to handle for the public.
Sir Patrick said: ‘I would always like to get things simpler than they were and clearer than they were… clearly some of those slides were quite complicated.’
Commenting on one spreadsheet that showed how some hospitals are already seeing more patients than they did in the spring, Professor Whitty admitted it ‘wasn’t an ideal slide’.
But Sir Patrick defended the use of the now-infamous graph that showed a possible 4,000 deaths per day by December said it was scientifically valid and was not ‘discredited’ despite recent days’ backlash.
‘These are scenarios that are put together on assumptions,’ he said, ‘Reasonable worst case scenario is something you don’t want to happen but could reasonably happen if things went in a certain direction’.
TIER THREE WAS WORKING – JUST NOT FAST ENOUGH
Professor Chris Whitty said he believed the local lockdown measures were working but that the outbreak was too large for them to control alone.
Professor Whitty said: ‘I am confident Tier Two has had an effect and that Tier Three has had a bigger effect.
‘The communities in the North and Midlands in particular… have responded remarkably to this. And because of that, I am confident the rates are substantially lower than they would’ve been if this had not happened.
‘But the early indications we have at the present is that this has not achieved getting the R below one – it has brought it much closer to one – but it is still doubling over a longer period of time.’
CHANCE OF LOCKDOWN ENDING ON DECEMBER 2
Whitty said the aim of the lockdown is to ensure that there is a ‘realistic possibility’ that after December 2 England will be able to move onto a ‘different state of play’.
He suggested that when the circuit breaker ends the country will move into a middle ground, likely with tougher restrictions than are in place now, but not as strict as the ones that will precede them for the next month.
SECOND WAVE WOULD BE WORSE WITHOUT TOUGH ACTION
The scientists rammed home their warning that, without tougher action than the slow-moving local tier system, the second wave will become worse than the first one.
They said they had been discussing this prospect in meetings with Government officials ‘virtually every day’ for the last month.
‘I think all of us would say that the rates will probably be lower than that top peak but I think reaching the peak that we reached in April strikes me as an entirely realistic situation,’ Professor Whitty said.
LOCKDOWN IS A DIFFICULT DECISION ‘BETWEEN BAD CHOICES’ – BUT NOTHING TO DO WITH SCIENTISTS
Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick repeatedly distanced themselves from the Government’s decision-making process and said what action is actually taken is out of their hands.
They have no role in assessing economic consequences, they said, and could provide only scientific advice and help ministers to interpret data.
‘These are very difficult decisions, we have no illusions,’ Professor Whitty said.
‘None of us are under any illusions. We’re choosing between bad choices – none of us should shy away from that
Professor Whitty conceded that the 4,000 daily deaths prediction was unlikely to come true because the modelling was a worst-case scenario based on a situation where no extra measures were brought in.
Meanwhile police chiefs in the North West have warned they will come down hard on anyone who believed they could ‘flout’ the restrictions.
In a joint open letter, the chief constables of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria said they would particularly target those organising music events or other large gatherings, and those who refuse to self-isolate.
‘To the minority who feel the restrictions don’t apply to them, be prepared to face the consequences of greater levels of enforcement,’ they said.
Ahead of the Commons vote, Mr Johnson warned of ‘fatalities running in the thousands’ if no action was taken as cases across the country continued to rise.
At the same time he sought to offer hope, telling Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting that the R number – the reproduction rate of the virus – was ‘only just above 1’ and the new measures would bring it back below that threshold.
Unlike the last national lockdown in March, schools and colleges will remain open under the new controls, which are due to run to December 2.
However pubs and restaurants will be forced to close, except for takeaways and deliveries, as will gyms, entertainment venues and non-essential shops.
People will be banned from socialising with other households indoors, and only allowed to meet one other person from another household outdoors.
There has been criticism, however, over rules which mean children’s grassroots sports will be banned outside school settings.
Some Tories have also hit out at a ban on communal worship, which has meant church services marking Remembrance Sunday have had to be cancelled.
In the House of Lords, the senior peer Lord Cormack said it was ‘imbecilic’ that veterans in their 90s would forced to stand outside in the cold and rain because they were not allowed into church.
However, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said the restrictions had to been seen as part of a ‘package of measures’ to get the R rate below one.
‘The danger in trying to pick apart each one, and when you get down to the ones towards a lower level where you might say, ‘Well, this doesn’t make much of an impact on its own’, is that you keep cutting things off and then you end up with a sub-optimal package,’ he said.
The latest move comes amid conflicting data about the current spread of the virus, with the Covid Symptom Tracker app, run by King’s College London (KCL), suggesting a a slight drop in new infections across England, Wales and Scotland.
Professor Tim Spector, who leads the study, said it showed ‘a plateauing and slight fall in new cases’, with an R number of 1.0.
However data from the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge put the R number above one in most regions, with an estimated 77,600 new infections a day across England.
It predicted that by mid-November the number of deaths each day was likely to be between 380 and 710.
Ministers hope that when the restrictions are lifted the Government will be able to return to a tiered series of localised restrictions for England, depending on the infection rate in a particular area.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has, however, said the lockdown will mean the hardest border between England and Wales for ‘several centuries at least’, with travel between the two countries banned without reasonable excuse.
The controls are set to come into force just as Wales prepares to end its two-and-a-half week ‘firebreak’, with schools, shops, pubs and restaurants set to reopen from Monday.