Northern MPs to demand ‘clear route out of lockdown’ during virtual PM meeting

By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent
·3-min read

Northern MPs will ask for a “clear route out of lockdown” during a virtual meeting with the Prime Minister on Monday, an ex-minister has confirmed.

Jake Berry, who leads the Northern Research Group (NRG) of more than 50 Tory backbenchers representing north of England constituencies, said he would be seeking answers from Boris Johnson about lifting the current measures, with some areas seeing little reprieve from restrictions designed to control the spread of coronavirus.

The meeting between Mr Johnson and MPs representing so-called “blue wall” seats across the North, many of them taken from Labour at last year’s election, will take place via online video conference.

The Prime Minister was told to self-isolate after being flagged by NHS Test and Trace as having come into close contact with Tory MP Lee Anderson, who has tested positive for Covid-19.

Monday’s talks were arranged after the Prime Minister was warned by the NRG in the run-up to the month-long second English lockdown, due to end on December 2, that they did not want their constituencies “locked into lockdown” indefinitely.

Mr Berry, a former northern powerhouse minister and one of the Prime Minister’s key backers during the 2019 Tory leadership election, told Times Radio: “We’ve got three key messages.

“The first is that we need a clear route out of lockdown.

“Many northern communities have been in some form of lockdown since March, with no time off for good behaviour.

“We need a way out of lockdown for northern people in northern businesses.”

Mr Berry said the group would be also calling for a post-Covid recovery plan for the North and for “smaller infrastructure” projects to be signed off by ministers.

The MP, who represents Rossendale and Darwen in Lancashire, added: “The second thing we’ll be pushing them on is the need for a northern economic recovery plan.

Boris Johnson
The Prime Minister will conduct the meeting ‘virtually’ as he is self-isolating (@BorisJohnson/PA)

“Covid has dug its claws deeply into the economy of the north of England.

“We need a plan and fund to help us rebuild out of that, not for the North, by the way, but for the benefit of the entire country.

“And then the final thing I’m sure he’ll be pushed on, although it will be for colleagues to ask what questions they want, is this desire to really fast forward some of these smaller infrastructure scenes in the north of England, that can see things like the extension of the tram in Greater Manchester, a light rail tram system in Leeds, the building of bypasses and new homes and things like that.

“The Government’s already committed to spending all this money on the northern economy. So I think the message will be, let’s go on and do it.”

Mr Berry was a close ally of Mr Johnson’s but he relinquished his Cabinet position in February’s reshuffle, turning down a Foreign Office job due to being a father of three young children.

He came under fire last week after suggesting ballet and opera is enjoyed by many people in the south of England, while northerners prefer football.