Watch: Raab rejects calls to commit to lifting lockdown by April
The government has rejected calls by Tory lockdown sceptics to lift all coronavirus restrictions by the end of April.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the government is taking a “cautious and careful” approach to lifting lockdown measures.
It comes after more than 60 MPs on the COVID Recovery Group (CRG) signed a letter to Boris Johnson demanding he commit to a strict timetable for ending controls in England due to the “tremendous pace” of the vaccine rollout.
The group said schools "must" return by 8 March as planned while pubs and restaurants should be allowed to reopen from Easter.
The MPs also argued that by the end of April – when all the government’s top nine priority groups, including all over 50s, should have been offered a vaccine – there will be “no justification” for any legislative restrictions to remain at all.
But he added that ministers would have to look at the data "very, very hard" before taking any decisions as they did not want to be forced into a "reverse ferret" if the disease started to spread again.
On being asked about the CRGs letter on Sunday, Raab rejected the MPs’ demands and reiterated Johnson's comments, saying the government would not be making an “arbitrary commitment” to easing lockdown without reviewing transmission and vaccine data.
"I think we are also cautious and careful because you can't get ahead of the evidence of the impact of the vaccine on the transmission," he said.
Raab told Marr: "We have made good progress. We don't want to see that unravel because we go too far too quick.
"We are not making what feels to me like a slightly arbitrary commitment without reviewing the impact that measures have had on the transmission and the hospital admissions of the virus.
"I don't think you can set though an arbitrary target and not be evidence-led, which is why the review point on 22 February is so important."
Raab said the R-rate was between 0.7 and 1 and, as of Friday, the seven-day totals for admissions, cases and fatalities were down by between a fifth and a quarter respectively.
"But you've got to be able to monitor it in real-time, which is why I think saying what we're going to do with precision and as a guarantee by the end of April (or) beginning of May, I think is difficult to do at this stage," he said.
Watch: COVID-19 - All restrictions must be lifted by end of April, lockdown-sceptic MPs say
In their letter, the leaders of the CRG said: "COVID is a serious disease and we must control it. However, just like COVID, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense social and health damage and have a huge impact on people's livelihoods.
"The vaccine gives us immunity from COVID but it must also give us permanent immunity from COVID-related lockdowns and restrictions."
It points out that by 8 March, the government's top four priority groups – which account for 88% of deaths and 55% of hospitalisations – will have had their first dose of the vaccine at least three weeks earlier, allowing time for protection to kick in.
"All restrictions remaining after 8 March should be proportionate to the ever-increasing number of people we have protected," it says.
"The burden is on ministers to demonstrate the evidence of effectiveness and proportionality with a cost-benefit analysis for each restriction, and a roadmap for when they will be removed."
On Sunday, Raab also addressed the prospect of vaccine passports after former prime minister Tony Blair called for a globally-recognised system that can show people’s COVID “proof of status”.
Blair wrote in the Mail on Sunday: “We have the technology which allows us to do this securely and effectively. The need is obvious. The world is moving in this direction. We should plan for an agreed 'passport' now. The arguments against it really don't add up."
Blair added: “Call it a passport, a certificate or proof of status – we will want to know.”
“We can’t stay in lockdown forever. But we know from experience that as we come out of lockdown, the disease will start to spread again unless we keep some form of controls on who can come into our country and unless we take reasonable precautions to stamp on any outbreak should it recur.”
But Raab said it was not yet possible to put forward a "workable proposition" regarding a vaccine passport.
Asked if it will be put on the agenda at the G7, he told Marr: "We can certainly discuss those things both internationally and domestically, but the reality is you've got to have a workable system, so it's not something that I think yet is in a place where we can put forward a workable proposition that countries around the world would be able to rely on.
"And the risk, of course, with anything like that is if you create something which isn't workable, that isn't dependable, it creates a false sense of security and no-one wants to do that."
Watch: Daily politics briefing - 14 February