Behind the scenes

Tory MPs reeling from ‘hammer blow’ of cautious easing of lockdown

Backbenchers criticise ‘devastating’ delay to reopening of hospitality sector

Lockdown-sceptic Tory backbenchers are warning that Boris Johnson’s lengthy schedule for easing Covid restrictions will force many pubs and other hospitality businesses to call time for good.

The prime minister last night set out a four-part approach to reopening the country that will see the last social restrictions lifted by 21 June. But while many health experts have welcomed the cautious approach, Tory MP Steve Baker tweeted that Johnson’s schedule is “a hammer blow to aviation, pubs, restaurants, hotels, gyms and pools, the arts and entertainment”.

 “Once again it seems to be modelling not data driving decisions,” added Baker, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory lockdown opponents.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has joined the chorus of angry MPs asking for bars and restaurants to be reopened faster, while CRG chair Mark Harper demanded to know why Johnson is not removing all restrictions by the end of April, by which time all over-50s are expected to have been offered a Covid vaccine.

Hospitality industry leaders have also criticised the lockdown easing schedule. Calling for more government support for ailing businesses, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said the sector was “devastated that its reopening will be so far away”.

“According to the latest government data, nearly two-thirds of hospitality businesses will run out of cash before May, before they are allowed to re-open,” she said. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has until next week’s spring budget “to save thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs that simply will not be there without a substantial package of compensation”, she added.

Despite those concerns, the lockdown easing plan is said to have received a cautious welcome from the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs. 

Politico’s London Playbook says the proposals “went down generally well” during a Zoom call with Johnson last night. The Times’ political editor Steve Swinford tweets that the PM told the influential group that the four phases of the roadmap are akin to “switching to faster lanes on a motorway”. 

However, an unnamed “non-CRG” Tory MP told Playbook that “they would have voted against the government on the measures for the first time if they’d been given the chance, and another non-CRGer says the roadmap is ‘ridiculously slow’ given the success of the vaccine rollout”.

Meanwhile, a Tory MP told Times Radio’s Matt Chorley that they agree with Baker but “I don’t want to look like I’ve been radicalised like the nutters”.

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