England returns to tiered Covid restrictions as second national lockdown ends

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent
·3-min read

A strengthened tiered system of coronavirus restrictions has replaced England’s second national lockdown after Boris Johnson suffered the largest Tory rebellion of this Parliament.

Despite the bruising revolt, the Commons backed the Prime Minister’s new measures meaning 99% of the nation entered the toughest Tier 2 and 3 restrictions on Wednesday.

MPs backed the curbs by 291 votes to 78 – a Government majority of 213 – on Tuesday evening, paving the way for 55 million people to remain unable to mix indoors with those from other households.

But 55 Conservatives rebelled, with 52 voting against the Government, a further two acting as tellers for the noes and one formally abstaining.

However, the measures passed after Labour ordered its MPs to abstain, with party leader Sir Keir Starmer warning the plans pose a “significant” health risk.

Rebel leader Mark Harper, a Conservative former chief whip, said “we very much regret” that “so many of us felt forced to vote against the measures” during a national crisis, adding “we must find a way to … end this devastating cycle of repeated restrictions”.

Covid-19 alert system in England
(PA Graphics)

A Government spokesman welcomed the Commons’ backing, which the House of Lords later approved, but said ministers would “continue to work with MPs who have expressed concerns in recent days”.

The scale of the revolt was a significant increase on the 34 Tories who rebelled against the second lockdown during a vote last month and the 44 who defied the Government on the 10pm hospitality curfew.

A further 16 Conservative MPs did not have a vote recorded for them on Tuesday. While some will be abstentions, others may have had valid reasons for being unable to vote.

Former Cabinet ministers Damian Green, David Davis and Jeremy Wright were among the Tories to vote against the Government, as did Conservative former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

Fifteen Labour MPs also defied party orders and voted against the regulations, including allies of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who also voted against the measures as an independent.

Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister announced a one-off payment of £1,000 for pubs forced to remain closed under the restrictions in an attempt to reduce the scale of the revolt, though the move was branded “derisory” by the trade.

And he acknowledged concerns of a perceived “injustice” in the allocation of tiers but reassured MPs the Government would consider a more focused approach in the future.

Most pubs in the country will face hampered trade from the measures.

Those in Tier 2, which will cover 57% of England’s population, will only be able to serve alcohol alongside a “substantial meal” and must obey rules restricting household mixing indoors.

In Tier 3, pubs and restaurants will only be able to offer takeaway and delivery services.

The tiers will be reviewed every fortnight and Mr Johnson promised MPs a fresh vote on whether to keep the system before February 2.

In other developments:

– Sir Keir challenged Mr Johnson to release a secret dossier on the economic impact of the coronavirus, threatening to use a parliamentary device to compel ministers to release the document if they do not make it public this week.

– The Daily Telegraph reported the Armed Forces and NHS had begun preparations for the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine by the weekend, with military personnel told to transform 10 sites including the London Nightingale hospital and Epsom racecourse into vaccine hubs.

– Care home visits in England can resume from Wednesday if visitors receive a negative result from a rapid Covid-19 test.

– The Government said a further 603 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the official UK total to 59,051.