Boris Johnson is facing a major revolt from the Conservatives over his plans for new coronavirus restrictions, after a government assessment of their economic impact failed to convince skeptical backbench MPs.
Westminster MPs said the document – released on the eve of Tuesday’s critical vote – failed to meet the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) request for a full cost-benefit analysis of the damage the three-tier system would do to businesses and jobs. on a regional basis.
And there was anger over a suggestion by new vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi that pubs, restaurants and other places in the future might require proof of vaccination as a condition of access.
Rather than exposing the social, economic and health rationale for assigning areas such as Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and the North East to the most difficult Level 3 strip, the newspaper said it was impossible to make “meaningful” predictions about the impact of particular restrictions.
He acknowledged that the controls have had “major impacts” on the economy, but said the alternative of letting the disease grow exponentially would be “much worse for public health” and that the prospect of a NHS overrun was “intolerable”.
More than two-fifths of England’s population are expected to move to Level 3 when the lockdown expires on Wednesday, 57% to Level 2 and just over 1% to the less strict Level 1. The proposed arrangement has sparked anger among the Tories. backbenchers who say it will wreak havoc on jobs, especially in the hospitality industry.
Despite expectations that 50 or more Tories could rebel, Mr Johnson was assured of winning Tuesday’s vote, after Labor and Liberal Democrats announced they would abstain.
Sir Keir Starmer said his party was acting “in the national interest” but a Downing Street spokesman said the Labor leader was “not offering any leadership”.
Speaking at a press conference at No.10, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “the light of dawn is on the horizon” after a sharp drop in coronavirus infections during the locking.
According to figures released on Monday, the government said 205 more people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. There have been 12,330 other confirmed cases, down from the second wave’s daily peak of 31,500 earlier this month.
But Mr Hancock insisted that the multi-layered restrictions were still necessary, saying: ‘While we can let go a little bit, we can’t afford to let go too much.
The impact assessment document “demonstrates that this action is necessary to avoid a much worse outcome,” he said.
However, a prominent CRG member dismissed the document as “rather less substantive than we hoped”.
And Commons Treasury Committee Chairman Mel Stride said it had been “reworked” from last week’s report by the Office of Fiscal Responsibility, with little information on how the different levels would affect specific sectors and regions.
“Those looking for further economic analysis of the new tiered system will be hard-pressed to find it in this document,” said Mr Stride, former Treasury minister.
Veteran backbench MP Sir Desmond Swayne said after reading the document he was still planning to vote against the government.
He said The independent: “It doesn’t seem to offer any new data. He feels he’s prepared to respond to the MAF’s request, rather than inform ministers of their decision.
The influential chairman of the 1922 backbench committee Sir Graham Brady – whose headquarters in Altrincham and Sale were placed at level 3 with the rest of Greater Manchester – said at a seminar at the Institute for Economic Affairs: “I am almost certain to vote against the government.
“My concerns about the impact on civil liberties and basic human rights are present regardless of how the levels are set, but my own constituency has been placed in the wrong level.
The government’s impact assessment highlighted last week’s central OBR forecast that unemployment will reach 7.5% and a permanent impact of 3% on GDP due to the Covid-19 outbreak. and controls imposed in response.
He noted that this forecast assumes the average level of restrictions in the UK is equivalent to England’s pre-foreclosure level 3, and said tougher measures would likely result in greater short-term economic costs.
But he gave no details of the expected impact on areas at each level, saying only: “Any attempt to estimate the specific economic impacts of precise changes in individual restrictions over a defined period would be subject to such uncertainty. that it would not be meaningful for specific policy making. ”
The document said the alternative of allowing Covid-19 to grow exponentially “is much worse for public health” and stressed the importance of keeping the R number – the reproduction rate of the virus – below a.
“At the start of the toughest time of year for the NHS, and with hospital admissions already high, an extended period with R above one would lead to a rapid overflow of hospitals,” he warned .
“It could lead to many more Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 deaths that could have been avoided had the NHS remained in its bed capacity.
“Cancellations of elective and elective care would also result in loss of life and years of healthy life.”
The government believes that “serious loss of life and other health effects” would be “intolerable for our society,” he said.
Mr Johnson defended the return to a regional level system during a visit to a North Wales pharmaceutical company.
“We cannot afford to take our foot out of the throat of the beast, to take our foot on the gas,” the prime minister said. “We cannot afford to let it get out of hand again.
“The prioritization system is strong, but it’s designed to be strong and to keep it under control.
“I know a lot of people think they’re at the wrong level and I understand people’s frustration.
“I particularly understand the frustration of the hospitality industry which has suffered so much and been through so much over the past few months, and we will do all we can, as we have done, to protect and encourage this industry throughout the years. weeks. and months to come.
MAF Chairman Mark Harper said he was “disappointed” that the government’s assessment came with so little time to spare before the key vote.
Stating that the MAF would analyze the material before rendering its judgment on Tuesday, the former chief whip said: “This information is what ministers should have insisted on before making their decisions, so surely it could have been made available more. early. ”
Cambridge University economics professor Dr Flavio Toxvaerd said: “The government’s analysis is far from a comprehensive impact study and will be of limited use in justifying either the lockdown, or the return to a system with several levels of regional restrictions. This is unfortunate, because careful impact study could help remove the sting of an unnecessarily polarized debate over how to contain the disease. ”