Covid: Boris Johnson writes to MPs to quell anger over new tiers

Covid: Boris Johnson writes to MPs to quell anger over new tiers

Boris Johnson has written to Conservative MPs to reassure them about England's new Covid tier system, as he faces the prospect of a rebellion in the Commons this week.

England's lockdown ends on 2 December, and many Tory MPs are unhappy with the toughened tiers that will replace it.

MPs will vote on the system on Tuesday, with Labour undecided on its stance.

In the letter, the PM said rules in some areas might be eased in December, and could come to an end on 3 February.

He also promised MPs a new vote on the tier system in January.

And writing separately in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson added he believed Easter would mark a "real chance to return to something like life as normal".

He warned, however, there would be "disastrous consequences" for the NHS if the government did not introduce the new tiered system when lockdown ends.

England's new system will see regions placed in one of three tiers: medium, high and very high.

In total, 99% of England will enter the highest two tiers, with tight restrictions on bars and restaurants and a ban on households mixing indoors. Only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly will be in the lowest tier.

In a bid to assuage MPs' concerns, Mr Johnson wrote to them outlining a timeline of when - and how - the tiered approach will end.

In his letter, Mr Johnson said:

  • Regulations have a "sunset" clause - or expiry date - of 3 February
  • Tiers will be reviewed every two weeks, and areas can move down the tiers from 16 December
  • At the end of January, MPs will have another vote on the tiered approach and decide whether measures stay in place until the end of March
  • The government will publish the circumstances that need to change for an area to move down a tier

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In his letter to the public, the prime minister urged people to support the new system and "work together" with tiering, testing and vaccines.

He said: "We can't blow it now. We can't just throw it all away - not when freedom is in sight.

"We have worked too hard, lost too many, sacrificed too much, just to see our efforts incinerated in another volcanic eruption of the virus."

Elsewhere in the UK, Northern Ireland has begun a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown, while in Scotland each area has been placed in one of five tiers.

In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford said pubs, restaurants and bars will be subject to stricter restrictions - which are not yet finalised - in the run up to Christmas. They will come into force from Friday, 4 December.

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Analysis box by Iain Watson, political correspondent

Conservative rebels were increasingly confident that they could demolish Boris Johnson's majority of 80 on Tuesday when the Commons votes on the proposed three tiers of restrictions in England.

That would make the PM reliant on Labour votes to get his measures through - and the opposition hasn't yet committed to backing him.

So, on Saturday night, there was a dramatic intervention to try to defuse the revolt.

In the letter to his MPs, Mr Johnson - in effect - pleads with them to give him the benefit of the doubt this week, in return for a new vote on the restrictions at the end of January.

If the government were to lose that vote, restrictions would end on 3 February.

He also seeks to reassure them that the review of restrictions on 16 December will be genuine, so it's possible some areas could move down a tier before Christmas

But one potential rebel, the former minister Tim Loughton told the BBC that the PM would have to do more to win him over.

He said: "We asked for a lot of information and that letter doesn't contain it. So unless we get it by Tuesday... then it doesn't change anything I'm afraid."

It's still possible Mr Johnson's new promises will sway some waverers, though a major rebellion may simply be postponed rather than avoided entirely.

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Map showing the new three tier system in England before and after lockdown

Mr Johnson's pleas to MPs and the nation come after Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove warned hospitals in England face becoming "overwhelmed" with cases if the new restrictions are not introduced.

Mr Gove said MPs needed to "take responsibility for difficult decisions".

He added that, across the UK, about 16,000 beds are filled with Covid-19 patients, compared to a peak in April of almost 20,000 and a low of 740 on 11 September.

However, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said all seven Nightingale hospitals, built during the first wave of the pandemic, lie "largely empty", adding that military medical staff could help run them.

And Tory MP Steve Baker reiterated the request to see the data the government was basing its new system on.

He tweeted that MPs were "glad to share in the burden of decision", but added: "That's why we need the information necessary to show the government's restrictions will do more good than harm, in full and in time. It is a modest request."

On Saturday, a further 479 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK, bringing the total to 58,030. There were also a further 15,871 positive cases registered in the past 24 hours.