Boris Johnson looks set to face a major Tory rebellion if he asks MPs to extend England’s second national lockdown next month.
Senior Conservatives backbenchers have formed a group to resist any extension when the coronavirus measures automatically expire on December 2.
Some 32 Tories rebelled against the Government when the Commons initially approved the plans. Yet the number of Conservatives thought to be privately against the measures is significantly higher – and at the time they warned that opposition would be significantly if they were made to vote on renewing the plans.
The Prime Minister said he expects the nation to return to a tiered local system when lockdown is due to end – and promised MPs a vote for the replacement to the four-week lockdown. But there have long been concerns that a month of restrictions is too short a period to bring the Covid-19 reproduction rate ‘R’ below one and lessen the strain on hospitals, amid fears of a third lockdown.
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There is particular concern that secondary schools remaining open – unlike the last lockdown – will blunt the effectiveness of the plan in controlling the virus.
Now former chief whip Mark Harper and ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker have united to lead the ‘Covid recovery group’ to oppose any extension of the measure in the Commons vote.
Mr Harper said: ‘The cure we’re prescribing runs the risk of being worse than the disease.’
However, if the government does call for an extension of the measures, they may be supported by Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour – which has so far backed Mr Johnson in imposing coronavirus restrictions – lessening the impact of a would-be Conservative rebellion.
The Covid recovery group has outlined three guiding principles: calling on ministers to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of any restrictions, ending the ‘monopoly’ of advice from Government scientists and improving measures to tackle Covid-19, such as test and trace.
Mr Baker explained: ‘We must find a more sustainable way of leading our lives until a vaccine is rolled out, rather than throwing our prosperity away by shutting down and destroying our economy, and overlooking the untold health consequences caused by lockdowns and restrictions.’
Sir Graham Brady, the influential chair of the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs, is among those said to have joined the group.
Ahead of the last vote, up to 100 Tory MPs were said to be considering voting against and Bolton West’s Chris Green resigned from the Government after the restrictions were imposed.
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