In Depth

Disunited kingdom: the Covid rules rebellions facing embattled Boris Johnson

Prime minister to reveal ‘three-tier’ restrictions amid nationwide confusion over tighter controls

Boris Johnson is braced for a fresh onslaught of resistance as he today reveals Downing Street’s hotly anticipated three-tier system for enforcing local lockdowns.

The new measures are intended to simplify the patchwork of rules currently covering more than 15 million Britons - approximately a quarter of the UK population - as Covid-19 infection rates and related deaths continue to increase.

But the plans are already under fire from across the political spectrum, with a senior Conservative MP telling Politico London Playbook’s Alex Wickham that “we are back to where we were in March - this is going to be shit and it may get shitter yet”.

Local holdouts

In a lone breakthrough for the government, Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotheram released a statement yesterday outlining what will happen when Merseyside enters the highest tier of restrictions.

“Pubs and bars, betting shops, casinos and adult gaming centers and gyms will close,” says the statement, which omits any mention of restaurants. Liverpool will also get an “enforcement package, with laws, not just guidance and advice”, a devolved “local Track, Trace and Isolate package” and “a specific package of financial support”.

Rotheram had previously said that he would refuse to back economically damaging measures to curb infections, so his statement is a win for the government.

But local leaders elsewhere are still proving to be a thorn in Downing Street’s side.

The leaders of Lancashire County, Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool last night issued a joint statement calling for “more detail from government about their proposals and in particular what the differences will be between the tiers in the planned system”.

This demand for greater clarity has been echoed by Sheffield City Mayor Dan Jarvis. In a separate statement, the Labour MP calls on Johnson to provide a “substantial package of powers and resources we need to get the virus under control”. 

“As it stands, we are trying to fight this virus with one hand tied behind our back because the government is providing inadequate support,” Jarvis adds.

Westminster rebels

Liverpool’s mayor is one of only a handful of northern politicians backing Johnson’s Covid strategy, with many others openly criticising the Tory leader. 

Labour MP Andrew Gwynne, who represents Denton and Reddish in Stockport, last night tweeted that he would not support “the closure of hospitality”, adding that “like the daft 10pm curfew, it will drive people from Covid secure businesses where measures can be enforced into illegal mixing in homes”.

MPs on Johnson’s own backbenches are voicing dissenting opinions too. William Wragg, who holds the Hazel Grove seat in Greater Manchester, tweeted that “talk of closing pubs, restaurants & cafes is misplaced, given that very limited transmission of covid seems to take place there”.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told Sky News this morning that “we are taking the measures that are necessary in order to protect people through this difficult period”.

But even ministers loyal to the prime minister have admitted that the local lockdown measures will be “very challenging” for staff from hospitality businesses.

And Johnson is “facing a rebellion” from Tory MPs who “want the prime minister to improve his Job Support Scheme” in areas that are about to be placed under tight restrictions, the Financial Times reports.

An unnamed Tory MP who represents a constituency in northern England told the paper that if “the government is shutting people’s businesses down and preventing people from working, it probably should make up their entire pay”.

The rebel Tories want “the lowest-paid workers to receive 80% of their wages”, as was the case under the original furlough scheme, rather than the two-thirds being promised by Chancellor Rishi Sunak under the new system, the FT adds.

Battling on

Johnson was chairing a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee this morning to finalise the three-tier plans. 

The most contentious issue still on the table is the “the infection rate at which each tier will kick in”, a point that is dividing the “hawks” and “doves” in Johnson’s cabinet, according to Politico’s Wickham.

Various local leaders are also continuing negotiations with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and Cabinet Office officials over which tiers of the new restrictions will apply to their areas.

Once these issues have been ironed out - or even if they are not - Johnson will deliver a statement to the House of Commons at 3.30pm outlining the new system, before leading a televised press conference at 6pm to explain the measures to the public.

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