England could face a third wave of coronavirus if ministers fail to “get the balance right” with restrictions, the Foreign Secretary has said, as he tried to persuade Tory rebels to back the tier system.
Dominic Raab refused to rule out a third national lockdown if there is another spike in cases in the new year, saying only that the Government was “doing everything we can to avoid that”.
But he sought to win over his Conservative colleagues who are critical of the three-tier system ahead of a crunch Commons vote on the measures on Tuesday when MPs could reject the plan.
Mr Raab insisted the restrictions – which will place swathes of England under stringent rules – are necessary to “bear down” on the pandemic and keep the country out of a national lockdown.
But he said tiers would be downgraded in areas where the virus is in retreat, telling Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “We are starting with a more restrictive approach than previously with the localised approach.
“But that allows us to ease up when we are confident the virus is going down and stabilised – there’s a review every two weeks.”
Mr Raab said that, with testing, “those two things are the crucial bridge to that light at the end of the tunnel in the spring”.
And in an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, he said there was a “risk” of a third spike in case numbers “if we don’t get the balance right”.
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 29, 2020
Asked whether there would be another national lockdown if people fail to comply with the rules, Mr Raab said: “We’re doing everything we can to avoid that.”
His comments came after Boris Johnson wrote to Conservative MPs offering them another chance to vote on the restrictions early next year, saying the legislation will have a “sunset of February 3”.
In a bid to head off a rebellion, the Prime Minister also said that at the first review of the measures on December 16 he would move areas down a tier where there is “robust evidence” that coronavirus is in sustained decline.
The vote after Christmas will determine whether the tier system stays in place until the end of March.
In a further olive branch to MPs, Mr Johnson committed to publish more data and outline what circumstances need to change for an area to move down a tier, as well analysis of the health, economic and social impacts of the measures taken to suppress coronavirus.
Labour shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said her party’s support was “not unconditional” and that it was seeking “clarity” about the tier system.
Without Labour backing – and if Mr Johnson suffers a major rebellion – the Government could struggle to pass its motion on the tier system.
But several MPs said they still had reservations about supporting the restrictions on Tuesday.
Conservative MP Peter Bone said he was “undecided” and would make his mind up after seeing a Government impact assessment of the tier system which is expected to be published on Monday.
He told the PA news agency: “I haven’t made up my mind how I’m going to vote… The dilemma I have is do we do more damage by the tiered system of lockdown, or do we do less.”
Another senior Conservative MP, who asked not to be named, said that his vote was “still in the balance” as he urged Mr Johnson to provide an assessment of how the tier restrictions will affect business.
He told PA: “The Michael Gove article on Saturday – eloquent and articulate as it is – doesn’t mention business once, which doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that the Government is really considering the needs of business.”
However, a fellow Tory MP said he would support the measures because “life trumps businesses”, and suggested some of his colleagues lacked the confidence to “do what is right” and agree to the tier system.
Asked how strong the anger is among MPs and how many might rebel, Pauline Latham, Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire, said: “I think it will depend very much on what Boris does between now and Tuesday.
“If he produces that evidence and he can prove to us that he’s got good evidence to go on then I think he won’t have a rebellion.”
Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly will be under the lightest Tier 1 controls, while large swathes of the Midlands, North East and North West are in the most restrictive Tier 3.
In total, 99% of England will enter Tier 2 or 3, with tight restrictions on bars and restaurants and a ban on households mixing indoors when the four-week national lockdown lifts on Wednesday.
In other developments:
– A further 208 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, while there were another 12,155 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
– Professor Peter Openshaw of Imperial College, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said a coronavirus vaccine could be available “as early as next week”.
– Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has written to the region’s 27 MPs calling for cross-party support to demand more money for areas in Tier 3 and to get some restrictions lifted in two weeks’ time.
– The Government announced it had secured another two million doses of US firm Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, which trials suggest is 95% effective.
– Labour urged ministers to suspend peak rail fares and provide mass coronavirus testing for transport workers to avoid travel “chaos” over Christmas.
The Prime Minister 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…
“We are so nearly out of our captivity. We can see the sunlit upland pastures ahead. But if we try to jump the fence now, we will simply tangle ourselves in the last barbed wire, with disastrous consequences for the NHS.
“So let’s do the job properly. Let’s work together, and with tiering, testing and vaccines let’s make 2021 the year we kick Covid out, take back control of our lives and reclaim all the things we love.”