Theresa May speaking during a debate ahead of a vote on new coronavirus lockdown measures – JESSICA TAYLOR /UK PARLIAMENT
Theresa May refused to back the second national lockdown on Wednesday after accusing Boris Johnson of relying on inaccurate data to impose blanket restrictions on the country.
The former Prime Minister was among 21 Tories who abstained on a vote on the month-long measures, with a further 34 Tories voting against the plans. The restrictions were voted through by 516 votes to 38.
On Wednesday night Tory sources made clear there would be no disciplinary action against the rebels. A party source said: “The PM understands the points they are making.”
During a heated Commons debate, Conservative MPs from all wings of the party lined up to condemn Mr Johnson’s decision to put England under a second national lockdown until the beginning of December.
Ministers were accused of “relishing the power of seeking to micromanage” people’s lives with new coronavirus laws and presiding over the “destruction and damage” of a second national lockdown.
Mrs May led the charge by criticising Mr Johnson’s Government for relying on a prediction of 4,000 deaths a day by Christmas, saying the data was “wrong before it was even used”.
There were audible gasps in the chamber as Mr Johnson walked out just as his predecessor had begun her speech just a few feet behind him.
Mr Johnson later sent a letter to Mrs May apologising and saying that he had to leave for a scheduled meeting. An ally said: “It was not a deliberate snub in any way. He has great respect for her.”
In her four-minute speech, Mrs May accused Boris Johnson of choosing data to fit his coronavirus policies, as she insisted the Government must reveal the economic cost of lockdown.
She said: “It appears the decision to go towards this lockdown was partly, mainly, to some extent based on the prediction of 4,000 deaths a day.”
“Yet, if you look at the trajectory showing in that graph that went to 4,000 deaths a day, we would have reached 1,000 deaths a day by the end of October.
“The average in the last week of October was 259, by my calculations. Each of those deaths is a sadness and our thoughts are with the families, but it’s not 1,000 deaths a day.
“So the prediction was wrong before it was even used. And this leads to a problem for the Government – for many people it looks as if the figures are chosen to support the policy rather than the policy being based on the figures.
“We need these proper analyses. We need to know the details behind these models. We need to be able to assess the validity of those models.”
On Wednesday night NHS England returned to its highest state of alert amid warnings that hospitals will continue filling up with Covid-19 patients for at least another two weeks.
The service will go back to level four alert status to coincide with the start of the second lockdown.
Before the debate, NHS providers warned MPs that “urgent action” was needed as the country had “lost control” of coronavirus, which created a “clear and present danger” that the NHS will not be able to treat all patients appropriately.
They told MPs in a letter: “Maximising public compliance and support for the new lockdown is vital if we are to ensure the NHS has the capacity it needs this winter.
“Trust leaders are worried that the larger the vote against the regulations, the more that public compliance and support will be at risk. We are therefore asking you to vote in favour of these regulations.”
Mrs May also said veterans “deserve better” than online Remembrance services to commemorate their sacrifices on Remembrance Sunday, November 8.
Mrs May said: “The Covid-secure Remembrance service in Worcester Cathedral is now going to be turned into a pre-recorded online service. Surely those men and women who gave down their lives for our freedom deserve better than this?”
Philip Davies, the Tory MP for Shipley, accused Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, of “failing” to build capacity in the NHS in favour of “relishing the power of seeking to micromanage every aspect of everybody’s lives”.
He called on the Health Secretary to “sacrifice his job in solidarity with all the others in the country” that will lose theirs because of lockdown.
“There’s no chance of that. No wonder so many people have no faith in politicians. No wonder so many people feel there is one rule for most of us and one rule for them,” he said.
Huw Merriman, the Tory chairman of the transport select committee, warned of the impact of these restrictions on suicide, mental illness, domestic abuse, lost jobs and homes.
He said: “I’m often asked if I have met anyone who has lost a loved one to Covid? And the answer to that is tragically yes I have and my heart goes out to them.”
Sir Charles Walker, the vice-chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, said people’s freedoms were “like the air we breathe” and accused the Government of coercing citizens to give theirs away.
The law enforcing the second lockdown was “terribly unjust” and “in many parts cruel”, he said. “I will not live in fear of the virus but I am living in fear of something much, much darker hiding in the shadows,” he added.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, accused the Government of displaying an “arrogance” by infringing on people’s civil liberties.
He said: “The thing that troubles me most is that the Government is reaching too far into the private and family lives of our constituents.
“I think there is an – unintended perhaps – arrogance in assuming that the Government has the right to do so.”
“We cannot ask people to follow rules which patiently make no sense and expect them to have respect for what is being done. So I have a fundamental problem with much of what we’re being asked to do here.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, said he would not be supporting the Government because lockdown is “a decision that damages lives and the people that will be damaged by this will be the poorest in society”.
Tim Loughton, the former schools minister, said that when “logic is not being applied” then people’s confidence in the measures is “trashed”.
He added: “National lockdown is a big step. The science of it is questionable, the business case against it is overwhelming.
“Why are we doing this before we’ve seen the effects of regional lockdown? So for me, the case has not proven, the measures proposed are not proportionate and I cannot vote for them.”
Craig MacKinlay, the MP for South Thanet, said he would vote against the second lockdown, saying it is an “insult” and highlighting the discrepancies within the rules.
He noted that the rules allow a couple to go for a walk on a golf course, but would face a fine “if they dare do it with a golf club and ball”.
Sir Bob Neill, who chairs the justice select committee, said the lockdown was not “‘proportionate or based upon the evidence”.
The chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs warned that the region cannot become “locked-in to lockdown indefinitely”.
Former Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry said: “We need a clear roadmap down the tiering system and out of restrictions when this lockdown ends” on December 2.
He said: “Our constituents have been some of the worst-affected by Covid, with many losing jobs and businesses. We cannot allow our region to become locked-in to lockdown indefinitely.”
That came after 77 business leaders from across the North wrote to the Prime Minister calling for a “clear route out of lockdown”.
They wrote: “More certainty would help to provide reassurance and confidence to people and businesses across the North, many of whom have been living under tough local restrictions for more than four months.”
Mr Hancock insisted the lockdown was necessary to stop hospitals being “overrun”, saying the measures “do not come easily to me” and insisted “our historic liberties are hard won and precious”.
“They should not be infringed save the grief bravest of times but these are grave times indeed,” he said.