Tory grandees demand Covid exit strategy from Johnson
CONSERVATIVE grandees are demanding that Boris Johnson urgently sets out an exit strategy from “a constant cycle of lockdowns”, as an influential expert on public opinion warned the Prime Minister risked appearing “blasé” about the lives of ordinary people.
Senior Tories expressed growing anger at the Government’s handling of the pandemic, amid concern swathes of the country were heading for further restrictions this week.
Yesterday, Julian Jessop, an independent economist, said another lockdown could result in a fresh hit to GDP of at least 5 per cent.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick, the former chancellor, warned that repeatedly imposing draconian restrictions and then lifting them was “deeply damaging to business and is not really a strategy”.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said constant lockdowns or “circuit breakers” to suppress the virus would be “pointless”. “If further restrictions on people’s lives are proposed, the Government has to set a clear end date and a strategy for returning life to normal,” Sir Graham said.
‘The Government has to set a clear end date and a strategy for returning life to normal’
The interventions came amid growing speculation that ministers would sign off on a new set of “super” Tier 3 measures this week in areas where Covid-19 transmission is highest.
Yesterday, there were a further 150 deaths from coronavirus, with a further 16,171 lab-confirmed cases. The number of deaths in the UK now stands at 43,579.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, James Frayne, who has carried out focus group research for the Government, warns of a looming shift in public opinion, against further lockdowns. He also accuses the Government of “playing down the obvious economic risks associated with harsher measures”.
His warning came as a poll by ORB International found that just 10 per cent of people believed the pandemic was under control in Britain – a record low.
Mr Frayne, a founding partner of the Public First policy research agency, writes: “When Government reduces personal and business support – as they must – people will see the direct tradeoffs being made: essentially, health versus living standards.
“In this new world, the key polling question will be: ‘are you happy to pay a
‘The key polling question will be: are you happy to pay a lot more in tax and risk your job for a national lockdown?’
lot more in tax and risk your job for a national lockdown?’ For most, the answer will be a resounding no.”
Mr Frayne suggests Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, has identified a shift in public mood, which is leading him to resist No10’s attempts to move the city into Tier 3. “If the Labour party follows Burnham’s lead – not imminently likely, granted – the Government would be in a very vulnerable position politically,” he writes.
Lord Lamont said: “I think a policy of suppress-relax, suppress-relax is deeply damaging to business and is not really a strategy. The Government ought to set out how it intends to exit. Waiting for a vaccine is not a strategy.”
Sir Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative backbencher, called for “transformational leadership” of Test and Trace and said the Government should compose a “Living with Coronavirus” policy.
Five Essex MPs, led by Sir Bernard, have written to the Prime Minister urging him to review the financial support for businesses under Tier 2 restrictions.
Gordon Brown, the former prime minister, said: “I believe the Chancellor will have to come back to the House of Commons soon to update, revise and change his plans, because it is not adequate for the circumstances of today.”
A government spokesman said: “We keep all measures under review and we don’t want restrictions to be in place any longer than is necessary, but where the virus is spreading we must take targeted action in order to save lives, protect the NHS, keep children at school and shelter the economy.”
Last night, 20 Tory MPs wrote to Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, and Mr Burnham, asking them to “engage with the Government’s regional approach to tackling the virus”.
The letter sparked a public row with Greater Manchester Tory MPs saying their colleagues “don’t understand the situation”.