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Tory MP quits government in protest at local lockdown

The Independent logo The Independent 13/10/2020 Rob Merrick
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A Conservative MP has quit the government in protest at the local lockdown in his constituency, protesting that businesses have been “pushed over the edge”.

“The Bolton lockdown has clearly not worked, and I believe that the cure is worse than the disease,” Chris Green, an aide to the leader of the Lords, told the prime minister. 

Bolton has been under some of the toughest lockdown restrictions for many weeks, with pubs and restaurants allowed to serve takeaways only.

In a resignation letter, Mr Green said it had “failed to control the number of positive tests within the borough of Bolton which have inexorably risen”.

He pointed to the prime minister suggesting such measures will be needed for six months – and argued the risk from coronavirus could not justify that.

“The damage done to physical and mental health as well as to livelihoods and businesses would be justified if the threat from Covid-19 was as first suggested,” the parliamentary private secretary wrote.

"I know that this novel pandemic virus posed a serious but little understood threat, but we have learnt so much since it first emerged.”

The resignation laid bare the opposition on the Conservative benches to new lockdowns – even as Keir Starmer urged Mr Johnson to go in the opposite direction, with a two-week “circuit break” of tough measures.

It came as Tory backbenchers criticised the strategy in the Commons, as MPs debated the new three-tier system designed to bring clarity to Covid-19 restrictions.

The system was approved – but 82 MPs, 42 of them Conservative rebels, voted against the 10pm pubs curfew, while failing to prevent it being endorsed.

Mr Green, who was first elected to the Bolton West seat in 2015, pointed to “20,000 fewer GP referrals” since the first lockdown and many other people “too frightened” to seek treatment.

And he hinted at support for last week’s Great Barrington Declaration, which advocated a return to “life as normal” for all the most vulnerable people – while herd immunity is built up.

"There is a healthy debate on how we can eliminate this coronavirus or how we can live with it and this is being led by many distinguished academics, epidemiologists and other specialists,” Mr Green wrote.

“I believe that there are better alternatives to the government's approach, so I therefore tender my resignation.”

The herd immunity approach was fiercely criticised by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, who told MPs: “Many infectious diseases never reach herd immunity, like measles and malaria and Aids and flu.

He also dismissed suggestions that elderly and vulnerable people should be segregated, adding: “We are not the kind of country that abandons our vulnerable or just locks them up.”

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