BORIS Johnson was hit by a barrage of criticism yesterday from businesses and his own mutinous backbenchers over his body blow second lockdown.
After telling MPs they “cannot pretend the way ahead is easy without painful choices for us all”, senior Tories accused him of turning Britain into an authoritative and coercive state.
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Business chiefs warned his four-week shutdown must be the last as it has “been a body blow of devastating proportion for the economy”.
The attacks on the PM came as figures showed daily infections had fallen to 18,950, the lowest level since Monday October 19 — amid suggestions Tier 3 restrictions in the North were already working.
Some scientists and MPs claimed No10 might have jumped the gun with a second national shutdown.
But Mr Johnson insisted there was no alternative to Lockdown 2.
In a bid to see off a growing rebellion over his November shutdown, the PM pledged the country would escape the virus by spring through emerging technology.
Yesterday, he passed his October target of half a million tests available a day, hailing it “a considerable thing to have done”.
BATTLING TO AVOID HUMILIATION
He also vowed to give MPs a vote on the next steps when his four-week lockdown ends on December 2, to placate his raging party, insisting the restrictions were time-limited.
But in a torrid 135-minute Commons grilling from 100 MPs, many Tories lined up to slam their leader.
Powerful backbencher Charles Walker blasted: “The people of this country will never forgive the political class for criminalising parents seeing their children and children seeing their parents.”
Downing Street is battling to avoid the humiliation of seeing its 80-seat majority evaporate and the PM forced to rely on Labour votes to enforce his clampdown.
But last night Government whips were confident they would spare Mr Johnson’s blushes in tomorrow evening’s vote, and rebel leaders admitted only about 15 Tories would defy the PM.
But senior Tories led by backbench boss Sir Graham Brady and former Cabinet Ministers Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey have vowed to vote against the lockdown and demand the science behind it be published in full.
Tory MP Bob Seely asked for the data to be published “so that people can start to understand and trust the information which is being put out”.
Fellow Tory MP Philip Davies told the Commons: “Can I just say to the Prime Minister that as a Conservative I don’t believe that collapsing the economy is ever the right solution to any problem.”
Meanwhile, CBI boss Carolyn Fairburn warned this lockdown must be the last or businesses would never recover.
She told a digital conference yesterday: “All eyes now ought to be on coming out in December. We have been absolutely clear that Lockdown 2 has been a body blow of devastating proportion for the economy — Lockdown 3, 4 and 5 would be even more so.”
From Thursday non-essential businesses will be ordered shut, people will be banned from meeting others and everyone will be ordered again to work from home a dramatic ramping up of the rules.
The PM stressed the country must avoid the “medical and moral dilemma” of the NHS being overwhelmed.
‘BRIGHT FUTURE AHEAD’
He added: “I cannot pretend that the way ahead is easy or without painful choice for us all.”
But he promised a “bright future ahead if we can make a success of these national measures”.
The intention for the next four weeks is to stop the infection doubling and “get that infection rate halving”, he said.
He hoped that we can “open up again in December, give people the chance to do some shopping… in the weeks leading up to Christmas and then beyond.”
However, he warned it may not be possible to loosen some of the tough lockdown rules, comparing it to taking out “one part of the Jenga block”.
Ministers will announce which areas will move back to the Tiers system “if any” the week before the lockdown ends.
And mass testing and “the real prospect of a vaccine” gave him hope that we can “defeat the virus by the spring”.
It came as:
- Boris Johnson’s 500,000 a day testing target was met after a huge ramping up of capacity
- Another SAGE adviser said the lockdown should last LONGER if schools stay open – as militant unions and Andy Burnham said they should
- And one recommended that secondary school students wear masks in classroooms – following Scotland
- The Scots Tory boss Douglas Ross said the PM was wrong to ignore calls for a national lockdown and says furlough should have been replaced earlier
- Business Secretary Alok Sharma promised a “steady but significant” deployment of rapid coronavirus tests as he acknowledged a vaccine which can eradicate Covid-19 “may never materialise”
- Nicola Sturgeon’s five-tier system comes into play today – and she warned it could be replaced by a nationwide lockdown as early as next week
- People in England will be banned from popping over the border into Wales for a pint during the national lockdown in England
In a dramatic Commons showdown lasting for more than two hours, the PM warned if there was no second lockdown “the sick would be turned away” and people may not get the care they need.
“Doctors and nurses could be forced to choose which patients to treat – who would live and who would die.”
Boris told MPs the restrictions were “time limited and after four weeks they will expire” and return to the Tier system – unless MPs renew them.
But he fell of promising the rules will definitely be lifted at the end of the month as the country hopes.
The PM vowed new rapid result tests would be rolled out in “the next few days and weeks” with the army brought in to help the distribution.
It would allow pregnant women to have their partners beside them throughout births, and would allow “testing [of] whole towns and even cities”.
And he revealed that the self-employed support would double over the next month to 80 per cent of profits.
Sir Keir Starmer today vowed Labour would support the new measures, meaning any Tory rebellion will likely be symbolic.
He blasted the PM for his “failure” to lock down early enough, ignoring advice for 40 days.
And he said: “At every stage the Prime Minister has been too slow, behind the curve.”
But furious Tory MPs insisted they couldn’t support another lockdown which would harm lives and restrict the public’s movements yet again.
And they lined up to demand the full scientific and economic cost of a lockdown be published.
Charles Walker MP said he couldn’t back the PM’s plans “as we drift further into an authoritarian coercive state”.
And the DUP’s Sammy Wilson even compared him to appeasing Hitler at the height of his rampage across Europe.
He blasted: “We were promised a Churchillian response to this virus but rather than a Churchillian response, we’ve had a response more like lord Halifax.
“This announcement today really is an announcement of defeat.
“We have surrendered our freedoms, we have surrendered our economy, we have driven people to despair with daily dose of doom laden data.”
Sir Graham begged Boris to consider the “enormous toll on people’s mental and other aspects of their health” before plunging the nation into another lockdown.
Former minister Esther McVey has said she would be voting against the measures.
In a post on Instagram, she wrote: “I will be voting against the new national lockdown on Wednesday when it comes before the House of Commons.
“The world cannot be put on hold, and the Government must stop pressing the pause and stop button for the whole nation on a whim, with all the disastrous effects this brings to our lives, livelihoods, health and relationships.
“The virus is here and we will be living with it for some time to come. We need to go about our daily lives whilst taking sensible precaution. Collapsing the economy is never a sensible solution to any problem.”
1922 boss Sir Graham Brady said he was likely to vote against the new restrictions, warning of a “mission creep” of new rules.
He told Radio 4 last night: “If these kinds of measures were being taken in any totalitarian country around the world we would be denouncing it as a form of evil and here the removal of people’s fundamental liberties is going almost without comment.
“And I think it is very important that we focus on those basic human rights and find ways, of course, to deal with the serious threat of Covid 19 but do it working with people rather than doing things to people.”
And he attacked ministers for “telling people who they are allowed to sleep with or not depending on whether they are deemed to be in an established relationship or not” – an infringement of the nation’s liberties.
Peter Bone told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he had not yet decided how to vote on the measures and would weigh up the evidence.
Mr Bone said: “At the moment, I have not been convinced that I should vote on Wednesday with the Government.
“But I’m going to listen.”
Former Tory boss Iain Duncan Smith warned that if the data was wrong in some way “we will have struck the wrong balance between saving lives and ruining lives”.
Writing in the Daily Mail he said today: “Make no mistake, the consequences – in terms of the human cost of closing hospitals to non-Covid patients, and the economic pain caused by the destruction of businesses – will be horrific.”
Mr Duncan Smith warned he will need to be certain the data is “fair and accurate before supporting such a drastic step as full lockdown”.
He went on to blast the way the Government defended the Tiers policy before u-turning completely.
LIVES COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED
It comes after scientists revealed a grim set of data over the weekend – warning the number of deaths could be double that of the last lockdown.
And it was feared that deaths could reach into the thousands a day in weeks.
However, the extreme data modelling is said to have been based on older information – which was already incorrect when it was revealed to the nation.
Today Prof Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London defended the figures.
And he claimed that thousands of lives would have been saved if the Government had imposed a two-week “circuit-break” lockdown when advised to by experts in September.
He told Radio 4: “I think if we had chosen a two-week circuit-break at that time we would definitely have saved thousands of lives.
“And, we would clearly have inflicted substantially less damage on our economy than the proposed four-week lockdown will do.”
Meanwhile Scots Tory boss Douglas Ross attacked the PM for ruling out a national lockdown earlier.
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he said: “I’ve said that I don’t think anything should have been ruled out and it probably was a mistake of the Prime Minister to rule out a national lockdown.
“Because if this virus has shown us anything it’s that you can’t rule anything out given the way it develops and how cases can go up and come back down again.”