London placed under tougher restrictions to fend off North versus South row, MPs claim

Harry Yorke
·3-min read
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Boris Johnson has been accused of imposing tougher Covid restrictions on London in order to fend off a "North versus South" row as Manchester appeared set to join Liverpool as a top tier lockdown area

Mr Johnson was facing a major backlash from London Conservative MPs on Thursday after ministers confirmed that the capital would be placed under Tier 2 restrictions from Friday at midnight. Essex is expected to follow shortly afterwards.

It means more than nine million people will be banned from meeting friends and family outside their household indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.

The decision has fuelled claims that ministers are attempting to placate local leaders in the north of England, who are resisting calls for their areas to be put into Tier 3 – the most severe level of restrictions.

Other MPs believe the growing number of areas being placed under tighter lockdown measures will effectively lead to another "national lockdown by stealth".

It comes amid growing expectation among ministers that Mr Johnson will be forced to announce regional "circuit-breakers" lockdowns by the end of the month to slow the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases

While the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has called for a national "circuit-breaker" lasting between two and three weeks, Government sources have suggested a series of regional lockdowns is more likely. 

During a briefing with the health minister Helen Whately on Thursday morning, London MPs were shown new data revealing that cases across the city have surged over the past fortnight. 

Speaking shortly after the briefing, the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, said: "The virus is spreading rapidly in every corner of our city. We will soon reach an average of 100 cases per 100,000 people, with a significant number of boroughs already over that threshold. 

"Hospital admissions are up, more patients are going into intensive care units, and sadly the number of Londoners dying is again increasing every day."

However, a number of the MPs present challenged the decision to impose blanket restrictions over a borough-by-borough approach. 

Hitting out at the move, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader and MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, told The Telegraph: "This is all about avoiding the idea of the North versus the South – chuck London into the mix. The figures I've seen for London do not necessitate this. This is a staging post – they are getting London ready for Tier 3. It will be a disaster." 

His comments were echoed by Bob Neill, the Commons justice committee chairman and MP for Bromley, who said: "I certainly think it's ill-judged, it's politically inept and naive. It's played into Sadiq Khan's hands. I don't think it's justified by the evidence. London is much bigger than any of the other cities we are talking about. It shows a poor understanding of London, and it will simply clobber businesses in the suburbs."

Bob Blackman, the Tory MP for Harrow East, said: "I've been saying it's ridiculous that we would treat London as a whole. This broad brush approach, when the infection rates are very different between boroughs, is just rubbish."

Separately, the Labour MP Chris Bryant accused Mr Johnson of attempting to avoid a national "circuit-breaker" by imposing additional local lockdowns "slowly, region by region".

A second MP told the Guardian: "I don't like to be flippant, but that's called the whole of the south-east of England. This is a national lockdown by stealth."