Mutinous Tories were last night warned that voting against the Government’s tough new Covid-19 tiers could result in a third national lockdown.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will put his plan to Parliament today amid fears that up to 100 of his own MPs could rebel.
Labour last night said it would abstain on the plans, meaning they will pass even with a moderate revolt – although the move is a shot across the Government’s bow.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs it was the “best way” of avoiding more severe measures.
He said: “I urge all MPs to vote for the tiered system. Unfortunately, we do have to have the higher restrictions so we can have confidence we can keep getting this virus down, then keep it under control.
“That is the best way to avoid a third lockdown. And it is the most proportionate way to take action we need to keep people safe, and stop the NHS being overwhelmed.”
Cabinet minister George Eustice confirmed no Tory rebels would be “sanctioned in terms of having the whip removed”.
But he admitted there was “great frustration” about the new measures – under which 99% of England faces major restrictions on operating hospitality and mixing with other households when the national lockdown ends tomorrow.
Despite being offered another chance to vote on the restrictions early next year, many MPs still have reservations.
The Government yesterday published an economic impact assessment of its new tier system that was demanded by the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs.
The 48-page document acknowledged a “significant” impact but said letting the disease run unchecked would be “much worse”.
But it gave little detail, saying: “It is not possible to precisely estimate the impacts of any specific restrictions, for individual areas.”
Treasury select committee chair Mel Stride said it was “frustrating”, adding: “There is little here that sets out how the different tiers might impact specific sectors and regions.”
Covid Recovery Group chair Mark Harper added: “We are seeing that, once again, the wheels are coming off the Government’s arguments.”
And Tory backbench chief Sir Graham Brady said: “The fact my constituency has been put in entirely the wrong tier makes it inevitable I would vote against.”
Mr Johnson said it would be wrong to “take our foot off the throat of the beast” as cases were falling. And he insisted that while “lots think they are in the wrong tier”, the new harder measures were essential.
Ministers have published community testing plans to help local areas detect asymptomatic cases, suppress the virus and offer a route out of the top restrictions. Authorities in Tier 3 can apply for the new six-week mass-testing scheme to run with local measures.
But claims areas in high tiers could escape via community testing were dealt a blow as the project leader admitted it was a big ask.
General Sir Gordon Messenger said he was “alive to the possibility we will not be able to do this all at once” and some Tier 3 areas would not get mass tests until “January and beyond”.
Britain’s biggest testing surveillance study shows Covid rates have plummeted in northern England and flatlined in southern regions. The West Midlands is now the region with the highest, REACT found.
Positive tests in the most recent period, from mid-November, suggest England has an R rate of 0.71.
There are fears family travelling to meet elderly relatives over Christmas could trigger a surge in cases as infection rates are stubbornly high in young people.
Imperial College London study lead Prof Paul Elliott said: “Each family must consider how best to keep any- one vulnerable safe over Christmas.”
Overall cases have dropped 30% since lockdown, setting the outbreak back six weeks. This was driven by a 50% fall in the North, including many areas previously in Tier 3 restrictions.
Before lockdown, cases in London, the South East and West were low but increasing rapidly. This increase has stopped but the South’s R value is just below 1, which means the number of cases are barely falling.
I live in Tier 3
Can I go out to socialise at all?
You must not meet indoors or in most outdoor places with anybody you do not live with, or who is not in your support bubble. This includes in any private garden. You can meet friends in other outdoor spaces such as parks or beaches but only in groups of no more than six.
Can I go to a different tier for a night out?
Unfortunately not. People living in Tier 3 areas should avoid travelling to other parts of the UK unless for a specific essential reason. The Government guidance lists these as work, education, youth services, to receive medical treatment or because of caring responsibilities.
Can I get takeaway food and beer?
Hospitality businesses such as restaurants, pubs and bars will have to close. But they are permitted to continue sales by takeaway, click-and-collect, drive-through or delivery services.
Am I allowed to eat/drink in the park with my mates?
Yes, but the Rule of Six still applies and you can only meet in a few public places like the park or beach – private gardens are banned for anybody from another householod.
What about Christmas?
Pubs and restaurants won’t be allowed to open in the five days of Christmas. The only difference to the rules will be that for five days three households can mix in private houses, gardens, outdoor public places or a place of worships. Even if you’re in a lower tier you still can’t go to hospitality venues with your Christmas bubble.
I live in Tier 2
Can I go to the pub?
Yes – hospitality venues will be allowed to stay open until 11pm – with last orders at 10pm. But alcohol can only be served as part of a substantial meal. You will have to sit outside in beer gardens or terrances unless you’re with your own household. And if you’re meeting friends, you can only meet as a group of six.
What is a substantial meal?
There seems to be some confusion over this after ministers said a Scotch egg was a substantial meal but No 10 then said that “bar snacks don’t count”. But previously, ministers said a Cornish pasty would only count as a meal if served with chips and a side salad. The guidelines define “substantial meals” as “a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal”.
Do I have to book a table in advance?
No, but as spaces are limited because of social-distancing rules you’d be wise to plan ahead. Pubs and restaurants will need to take your details which can be time-consuming unless you have already provided them.
Do I have to leave as soon as I have finished eating?
Cabinet minister George Eustice has confirmed that punters will be allowed to finish their drinks after eating their meal, and won’t have to leave the premises immediately. But venues will interpret the rules in different ways and you may be asked to order them all at the same time.
Can I only go with my family/bubble?
If you want to sit inside, yes, you have to be with your household or support bubble. But you can mix with friends from other households if you sit outside – but the Rule of Six applies – and you can’t swap into another group sittiing at a nearby table.
Can I drink outside – or do I have to eat as well?
If you want to order a drink then you have to order a substantial meal at the same time, regardless of whether you’re sitting inside or out. You won’t be allowed to keep ordering drinks after you’ve finished eating.
Can I buy takeaway drinks to have in the park with my mates?
Yes, premises can sell beer and wine to take away. But takeaway drinks must be pre-ordered by phone or online, and customers cannot consume them at or near the pub. You can sit in the park with friends – or in a private garden – but the Rule of Six still applies.