In Depth

Who are the Tories calling for an early end to lockdown?

Conservative rebels say government’s ‘ludicrous’ stance on tackling coronavirus risks economic disaster

Boris Johnson is facing a rebellion within the Conservative Party over his coronavirus lockdown strategy, as cabinet members and senior backbench MPs call for an earlier lifting of restrictions.

The demands directly oppose the line now taken by the prime minister, amid claims that “his personal battle with the disease has made him ‘tentative’ about lifting lockdown”, reports the Daily Mail.

Johnson has warned that easing social distancing measures too early could trigger a secondary outbreak in the UK.

Who are the rebels?

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are among those pushing for an earlier reopening of the economy - or as The Guardian describes them, “the cabinet’s lockdown hawks”.

The Financial Times reports that while International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has followed the government line in public, she is also thought to favour easing restrictions sooner. 

Indeed, The Guardian suggests that anyone with an “economic department” is naturally aligned with that position.

The rebels are being backed by a number of senior Tory backbenchers, with members of the influential 1922 Committee reportedly holding a private meeting at which they unanimously expressed deep concern over the government’s tactics in tackling the Covid-19 outbreak.

Committee treasurer Geoffrey Clifton-Brown is urging Downing Street to begin a “gradual, step-by-step” process of easing the restrictions within two to three weeks, reports The Times.

“That inevitably will mean that there will be, at each time, more coronavirus cases. And we just have to accept that,” Clifton-Brown told the newspaper. “If we keep the lockdown going, it will be much more difficult for the economy to recover.

“The nation is quite divided on this and it’s up to the government, I think, to exercise leadership. Unless we do something fairly soon the economy is going to take a real hit.”

Meanwhile, an unnamed 1922 member described the government’s messaging on coronavirus as “ludicrous”, according to the BBC.

At the other end of the scale, Health Secretary Matt Hancock wants to see the virus “crushed” before the country lifts lockdown measures, says the FT.

Hancock and the pro-lockdown caucus are also backed by Johnson’s influential advisor, Dominic Cummings.

How soon do the hawks want the lockdown lifted?

Speaking to The Times, Charles Walker, vice-chair of the 1922 Committee, said: “All MPs right now are dealing with dozens, if not hundreds, of local businesses that are fearing for their future.

“Building capacity within the NHS, reducing infection rates, has to be the precursor to lifting the economic lockdown. If we don’t do this many good and strong businesses will not open their doors again. The consequences for millions of people will be potentially devastating.”

Some 1922 members believe the lockdown needs to be relaxed after the first week of May, when the government is next expected to review the lockdown.

One committee member reportedly told BBC Newsnight political editor Nicholas Watt that “if we don't do that, we really will see thousands of businesses go under”.

The backbenchers suggest that as a first step, gardening centres and DIY stores should open immediately.

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