New Covid tier system branded ‘authoritarian’ by influential Tory as backbench revolt looms

Andrew Woodcock
·3-min read
Steve Baker, the co-chair of the Covid Recovery Group (PA)
Steve Baker, the co-chair of the Covid Recovery Group (PA)

Boris Johnson’s coronavirus controls were today branded “authoritarian” by an influential Tory MP, as the prime minister braced himself for a backbench revolt against his new tier system.

Steve Baker, who co-chairs the Conservative Covid Recovery Group, said the restrictions for England announced by health secretary Matt Hancock were “appalling”.

And he repeated the call from 70 MPs for the publication of a full cost-benefit analysis of the impact of tiers decision not only on the health but also the economy of each area.

A backbench rebellion could leave Mr Johnson reliant on Labour MPs to get his new system through the House of Commons in a vote next Tuesday. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has not yet guaranteed his party’s support.

But the decision to keep London in tier 2 may damp down any rebellion, as local MPs had warned they would not support a move into the toughest tier 3.

Mr Baker’s Wycombe constituency was placed in tier 2, along with the rest of Buckinghamshire, from 2 December, despite having been in the less stringent tier 1 before the lockdown.

The Department of Health’s analysis of the county found “a broadly stable or improving picture” with a case rate at 138 per 100,000 and positivity at 6.4 per cent, but concluded: “These case rates remain too high for allocation to tier 1”.

Mr Baker said: “The authoritarianism at work today is truly appalling. But is it necessary and proportionate to the threat from this disease?

“The government must publish their analysis.

“On the economy and on coronavirus, I fear we are now so far down the rabbit hole that we have forgotten we even entered it.”

Other Tory MPs indicated they are considering rebelling on Tuesday.

Poole MP Sir Robert Syms said: “I have told health secretary that both urban and rural Dorset are bitterly disappointed to be in tier 2 . I am not happy this could last until next April so I am likely to vote against next Tuesday.”

And Hazel Grove MP William Wragg protested that his constituency had been included in a blanket tier 3 order for Greater Manchester, despite having lower levels of disease than neighbouring boroughs.

“Stockport’s Covid rates continue to fall sharply and will no doubt be lower still next week,” said Mr Wragg.

“We should be considered for tiering on a local authority basis. As we have not been, I cannot support these proposals.”

The Department of Health said that the allocation of tiers was not triggered by a particular data threshold, but an assessment of five factors.

These are: case detection rates in all age groups and in the over-60s; the rate at which cases are rising or falling; positivity rate in tests; and pressure on the NHS locally