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Johnson Faces Lockdown Revolt From More Than 50 U.K. Tories

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 10/27/2020 Tim Ross and Joe Mayes

(Bloomberg) -- More than 50 of Boris Johnson’s own Conservative members of Parliament have demanded a clear route out of lockdown for parts of northern Britain that helped give his party a majority in last year’s election.

In a letter to the prime minister, the MPs warned that his pandemic strategy of targeting local areas with restrictions is disproportionately damaging the economies of northern regions of the country and deepening the divide between the north and the wealthier south.

The MPs reminded Johnson of his promises to “level up” disadvantaged parts of the country, which helped persuade voters in former industrial heartlands last December to back his Tories instead of the opposition Labour Party many had supported for decades.

Jake Berry standing in front of a brick building: U.K. PM Johnson's Government Fears Brexit Deal Slipping Away © Bloomberg U.K. PM Johnson's Government Fears Brexit Deal Slipping Away

Jake Berry

Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

“Our constituents have been some of the worst affected by Covid, with many losing jobs and businesses,” the MPs said in the letter, which was coordinated by former minister Jake Berry. “We urge you to reflect carefully on our promise to people living in the north during the last election with the leveling-up agenda and make our region central to the country’s economic recovery.”

The MPs, all from northern England, north Wales and the Scottish borders, called for a “clear roadmap” out of local lockdowns and a dedicated northern economic recovery plan, with investment in rail and other infrastructure projects.

Brexit Promises Catch Up With Boris Johnson in Covid Hotspots

“We need consistent and clear data to be published which shows not just council leaders but also the public and businesses alike how they are doing in tackling this pandemic,” Berry told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday. “I’d like to see that information provided in an easily-digestible, public-facing, consumer-friendly way.”

Tory Discontent

For so many Tories to go public and back a coordinated set of demands shows the scale of disquiet in Johnson’s own party over his coronavirus strategy. The premier has been battling resistance from local leaders and mayors over his decision to impose strict restrictions on regions in the north, including the city of Manchester.

The letter came as more areas of northern England move into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, with Nottingham and Warrington the latest to enter Tier 3, where pubs not serving meals must close and household mixing is banned.

chart, bar chart: Blue Wall © Bloomberg Blue Wall

Responding to Berry’s request for a clear route out of lockdown, Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi said areas under local restrictions are reviewed every 28 days, and public health officials will assess the reproduction rate of the virus before deciding whether to ease the rules.

“We’re seeing some good signs, early signs, that the rate of infection is slowing down, but not sufficiently enough,” Zahawi told BBC TV on Tuesday. “It’s a really tough balance between the harms of the virus and the harms to the economy.”

Unpopular

Johnson insists that his policy of local lockdowns -- organized into three tiers of restrictions -- is better than hitting the entire country with a second economically disastrous national lockdown. But local politicians regard it as unfair and some Tories worry the strategy will cost them support.

“We are absolutely committed to leveling up across the country and building back better after coronavirus,” a spokesman for Johnson’s office said in a statement. “We stood at the last election on a solemn promise that we would improve people’s lives, and although the pandemic has meant 2020 is not the year we all hoped it would be, our ambitions for the country are unchanged.”

More on U.K. politics

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Johnson Heads Into War of Blame With U.K. Business Over Brexit

(Updates with comment from Berry in sixth paragraph, minister in ninth)

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