Dozens of backbenchers set to vote against the second lockdown

Now for the Tory civil war: Dozens of backbenchers set to rebel and vote against the second lockdown – so Boris Johnson may have to rely on Labour votes

Boris Johnson will today try to stop a damaging rebellion within his party over the second lockdown.

Dozens of Conservative backbenchers could defy the Prime Minister and vote against the restrictions on Wednesday, a day ahead of them being imposed.

The measures are sure to pass the Commons after Sir Keir Starmer said Labour would back them.

But Downing Street is concerned a sizeable rebellion could damage public support for the move.

Boris Johnson will today try to stop a damaging rebellion within his party over the second lockdown

Mr Johnson and other ministers will meet groups of potential rebels today in a bid to limit its size.

Last month more than 40 Tory MPs voted against the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants – and some of those planning to vote said it could be higher this time.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, revealed a number of Tory MPs would join him in opposing the move.

‘There is a lot of unhappiness about this,’ he said. ‘I will be voting against the lockdown – it would be surprising if I didn’t.

‘I’ve received large handful of calls from colleagues saying today “I’m voting against it”.’

Former Cabinet minister Esther McVey last night declared she was joining the rebellion.

Sir Graham Brady revealed a number of Tory MPs would join him in opposing the move

She said: ‘The “lockdown cure” is causing more harm than Covid.’

Former minister Steve Baker revealed he had not decided which way to vote despite being briefed by No 10 over the danger of the NHS being overwhelmed.

‘The vote in the House of Commons is a choice between the lesser of two evils,’ he said.

 ‘It is not clear which is the greater and most certain evil: overwhelming the NHS or the damage to our economy.’

Tory MP Sir Charles Walker added: ‘I will absolutely not support another four-week lockdown. I will vote against it.

‘It’s cold and cruel. This is going to haunt this country for decades, and its institutions.

Former Cabinet minister Esther McVey last night declared she was joining the rebellion

‘It’s not about machismo: it is understanding that people who happen to disagree with the groupthink are not heretics. 

Their concerns are deeply and fundamentally held.

‘I don’t see where we end up following this. Shut down for a month, open up for a month, shut down for a month. 

Eventually we will have to follow a different approach. We can’t afford for the economy to collapse and it is on the verge of collapse.’

His backbench colleague Desmond Swayne revealed it would take ‘a hell of a lot’ to persuade him to vote for the lockdown.

‘My reaction is one of despair and disaster,’ he said. ‘The crazed scientists seem to have got the better of our Prime Minister.

‘These are very difficult decisions, but I feel it’s the wrong decision.

‘I think the Prime Minister should have stood firm. 

Boris Johnson needs to attach a higher priority to the economic health of the nation because in the long term that will have a great impact on the physical and mental health.’

Former minister Steve Baker revealed he had not decided which way to vote

Former Cabinet minister John Redwood added: ‘I am not persuaded of the need for these national restrictions and I want to hear a proper exit plan from ministers.

‘It’s not satisfactory to say let’s have a rolling system where we have a lockdown to squeeze the virus, then open up but then the virus pops up again so we have to have another lockdown.’

Mr Johnson also faces growing anger from the Northern Research Group, a new bloc of Tory MPs from so-called Red Wall seats.

Last week more than 50 warned him his Covid curbs risked widening the North-South divide. 

Yesterday 80 prominent business leaders from the North – together employing 180,000 people – wrote to Mr Johnson to support this warning.

Last night an NRG spokesman said: ‘We have called on the Government to announce a clear roadmap down the tiering system and out of lockdown restrictions when it is safe… and to deliver a Northern Economic Recovery Plan to help the North.

‘It is only through these steps we can support people and businesses across our region, level-up our communities and build back better after Covid.’

   I hope the scientists have got their sums right   

  By Sir Iain Duncan Smith

 So it turns out – we learn, courtesy of Michael Gove – that this lockdown could be much longer than the four weeks initially announced, perhaps even stretching beyond December.

Small wonder that many of us are deeply concerned that this begins to look like a re-run of the March lockdown, which – you may recall – began as three weeks but ended up lasting well over three months.

I supported the PM’s regional tiered strategy in the belief that he was correctly balancing the wider needs of the country against the threat of the virus spreading. 

Trying, as far as possible, to keep the economy open whilst focusing on those areas with the highest infection rates wasn’t a perfect solution, but it kept people’s hopes up. Now those hopes have been dashed.

I still feel, after seeing the Sage data, that we should have stuck with this plan – even increasing, if necessary, the levels of action in specific areas as is now happening in Scotland.

It seems harsh to punish the whole of England when many areas could be at tier levels which might well bring this under control. 

After all, there is evidence that it was working in a number of areas as infection rates were flattening.

This while no less a body than the World Health Organization warns us that all world leaders should stop using lockdown as their primary control method.

Yet Sage has presented us with forecasts of such frightening magnitude that these considerations have been swept aside.

I begin to wonder how often the epidemiologists, who always claim to be right, get their forecasts wrong. 

Strange how this self-selecting group gets to mark its own homework.

I am concerned by the thought that we might have been bounced into something on the basis of a flawed prospectus.

I would hate to discover further down the line that Sage’s blood-curdling warnings of apocalyptic levels of infection and death were not based on data that was reasonable, fair and correct.

Because if it turns out to be out of date or defective in some other way, we will have struck the wrong balance between saving lives and ruining lives.

Make no mistake, the consequences – in terms of the human cost of closing hospitals to non-Covid patients, and the economic pain caused by the destruction of businesses – will be horrific.

Furthermore, Sage is dismissive of the reasons that Japan, Sweden, or even Taiwan have managed their responses to the pandemic so differently and well. 

They seem myopically determined, for reasons of their own, not to carry out a proper analysis of these success stories.

The Government’s new measures will be put to a Commons vote later this week, and I will need to be certain that the data is fair and accurate, leaving no other alternative, before supporting such a drastic step as full lockdown.

I fear I will not be the only Conservative MP with reservations. There is a lot of anger about the way we were asked to defend the Government’s tier system against attacks by the Labour Party, only for us now to be called upon to support a policy that goes well beyond what the Opposition were promoting last month.

As we prepare to lock down again, I fear that our collective failure in our response to the virus will leave the UK and others in the West desperately weakened, teetering on the edge of economic and political disaster.

And as I cast my eyes across to a newly resurgent China, whose economy is set to grow by at least 7.5 per cent next year, I ask the question: who will be capable of advancing the cause of freedom against the onwards march of totalitarianism?

Sir Iain Duncan Smith is a former leader of the Conservative Party

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