A cabinet divided: Conservative MPs rebel against UK Prime Minister’s new post-lockdown restrictions

3 mn read

The second lockdown in England is set to end at midnight on Tuesday, 1st December. Restrictions that will replace it draw similarities to the tier system imposed before lockdown was reinstated in November. However, many MPs are planning to vote against the regulations.

After a month-long “circuit-breaker” across the mainland, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced an amended version of the three-tier system will be reintroduced. By this system, rules applied to different regions can vary, contingent on several factors.

“Lockdown 2.0“ was met with enormous backlash from the public and with tier three mirroring the restrictions brought by the national lockdown, worries remain. Boris Johnson admitted that the tougher tiers would “bring a great deal of heartache and frustration.” But he insisted they are essential.

Parmjit Singh Sahota, Labour Councillor, told Eat News, “How the government has been seen to always be behind the curve in taking action has, again, been vindicated by the hesitancy they had before going into the second lockdown. We can only wait and see how the measures put in place now actually help to lower the R rate. This could be allowing some normality to return whilst the planning is put in place to begin to roll out the vaccine in the near the new year or before Christmas.”

A vote will decide if the new tier system is backed, which set to take place on Tuesday 1st December.However, as many as 70 Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the regulations, in what is being described as a backbench rebellion. Senior MPs Sir Graham Brady has publicly commented that he wishes to see people “treated like adults” and trusted with their own health decisions. Others have cited concerns about civil liberties and the economic impact of coronavirus restrictions on their constituents.

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Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, claimed that hospitals would be overwhelmed if MPs voted against the restrictions – but this has been contested. Conservative MP for Forest of Dean, Mark Harper, stated, “I’d say to Michael, show us the evidence. Last time we debated the lockdown, a slide was leaked from cabinet that suggested same thing. At the press conference the following week, that slide was never published, and this information was incorrect. If he genuinely thinks hospitals would be overwhelmed, he should show us the modelling so we can all see it. Share it with parliament so we can take a decision. Hard evidence, not hyperbole.”

While Adam Afriyie, Conservative MP for Windsor, wrote on Twitter, “I can’t look my constituents in the eye, shut down their businesses, drive up unemployment and risk other health issues without seeing evidence that it’ll do more good than harm.”

In tune with Cllr Sahota’s comments, Labour Leader Kier Starmer has announced his party would be abstaining in the key vote. While Starmer said the party is “acting in the national interest” by not opposing the regulations, he does have reservations about them.

In his speech, Starmer said, “Coronavirus remains a serious threat to the public’s health and that’s why Labour accept the need for continued restrictions. We will always act in the national interest, so we will not vote against these restrictions. However, I remain deeply concerned that Boris Johnson’s government has failed to use this latest lockdown to put a credible health and economic plan in place.”

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Decisions about the tier status of an area are made using informed recommendations from health officials. At the forefront of the decisions, the severity of coronavirus cases, the speed at which cases are rising and falling, as well as the rate of positive testing in the general population, will largely affect the position of a region. Local context, such as any local yet contained outbreaks, and any changes in the case detection rate, will also contribute to a shift in tier. And finally, the pressure on the NHS – including admissions, bed capacity and staff presence – will be continually reviewed and closely monitored in areas across the country.

Tiers range from one to three, with one being “medium”, two being “high”, and three being “very high.” Tier one sees areas largely open as usual, with bars and restaurants closing at 11pm and a relaxed limit on mixing households. If a region is in tier two, there are stricter mixing rules, but pubs can remain open if they serve substantial meals and must close by 10pm. In tier three, hospitality venues must remain closed unless offering a takeaway service, and there is to be no mixing with other households indoors or in a private garden – up to six people from two households may meet outdoors in a public space.

Despite the so-called rebellion, it is thought that if the Labour Party refuse to vote against the decision, the restrictions will go ahead as planned.

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Emily Lowes is an Eat News correspondent in the UK who has experience writing social, political, and economic features for a range of news outlets. She is an avid communicator, activist, and advocate for the freedom of information.


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