Behind the scenes

Coronavirus: lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs in retreat as Covid cases spike

New data suggesting one in 50 people in England are infected prompts rethink among rebel Conservatives

MPs are expected to approve Boris Johnson’s new Covid restrictions this evening as Conservative lockdown sceptics back down in the face of spiralling infection rates.

When MPs last voted on coronavirus measures, on 1 December, 55 of the prime minister’s backbenchers voted against the introduction of a tiered system of restrictions. But newly published data from the Office of National Statistics that suggests one in 50 people in England are currently infected with the coronavirus has prompted many of the rebels to think again. 

The Times reports that the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, which was formed to resist lockdown measures, will back the new national lockdown in today’s Commons vote. “There’s no choice this time,” an unnamed CRG member told the paper.

The Telegraph predicts that Johnson still face some resistance from within his party, however, but that the rebellion will be of a “smaller scale” than last time. According to the paper, “one former rebel, who plans to abstain on Wednesday, said they felt the emergence of the new, hyper-infectious strain of Covid justified drastic measures”.

Meanwhile, a senior government figure told Politico that “it’s one thing to argue to support people’s businesses and keep them open but if that’s at the expense of your constituents dying it becomes less palatable”.

But the news site’s Alex Wickham notes that “there is still potential for some Tory MPs to kick off”. Wickham reports that the PM “got some grief” from members of the 1922 Committee during a Zoom call last night, after the Tory backbenchers noticed that the newly published regulations will expire on 31 March, rathan than mid-February as Johnson claimed during his address to the nation on Monday.

And with anger simmering over the lockdown terms, Sky News is predicting a “sombre and fractious” exchange of views in the debate preceding tonight’s vote.

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