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Johnson battles to win over Conservatives amid covid revolt


Boris Johnson is battling to convince Conservative Party colleagues to back plans to keep most of England under strict pandemic controls when the national lockdown ends this week.

Ministers on Monday will publish analysis of the health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic and the measures taken to suppress the disease, before a scheduled vote on Tuesday over England's return to a three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions to replace the lockdown on Dec. 2.

With reports that as many as 100 Conservatives may rebel in the vote because they say the new rules are too tough, Johnson at the weekend wrote to his critics promising concessions in an attempt to persuade them to support him. He warned that a third national lockdown may be required if the country fails to bring the coronavirus under control.

"The prime minister and other ministers will be working very hard to reassure them about the steps that we are taking," Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News on Monday. "There's great frustration with the emergency measures we've had to take to deal with this pandemic."

If 100 Tories rebel, it would deliver a damaging political blow to the premier and could even cause his plans to fail. But while the main opposition Labour Party have yet to say how its MPs will be asked to vote, indications from members of the shadow cabinet are that they'll rescue the prime minister from defeat by supporting his measures.

On Sunday, Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon told Times Radio it would be "illogical" to vote against the new tiered system because then the country would be left without any pandemic restrictions given England's current lockdown expires by law on Dec. 2.

"We've always supported sensible public health restrictions and of course we will put that first again tomorrow," Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green told Sky News. She said she hopes Johnson "will be able to give us all the reassurances that we need today to make the right decision for the public and keep everyone safe."

The prime minister intends to put most of England in the top two tiers of curbs from Dec. 2 to suppress the virus further before loosening the rules in time for families to meet at Christmas. The rules will be reviewed every two weeks, with the first coming on Dec. 16.

But his strategy of locking down England twice and now keeping the hospitality industry under tight restrictions has put him at odds with many in his own party, who fear the economic damage of lost jobs and failed businesses risks outweighing the benefits to health. Many have complained about the inconsistency of the new tiered system, lumping areas of low infection under tough restrictions along with places with high prevalence.

After Cabinet minister Michael Gove wrote in the Times newspaper all hospitals in England would face being overwhelmed if MPs block the new restrictions, former minister Mark Harper told Gove to prove it.

"If he genuinely thinks that hospitals would be overwhelmed, then show us the modeling and the evidence that he sees," Harper said in an interview with Times Radio. "I simply don't know whether it's true."

In his letter, Johnson appealed to members of Parliament to back the regulations, promising the rules would expire on Feb. 3 under a "sunset" clause and saying MPs would get another vote on whether to extend the restrictions to the end of March.

"Disagreement on approach is natural, and I hope you recognize that the government is seeking as far as possible to listen to criticism and respond positively to constructive proposals," Johnson wrote in his letter to Tory MPs. "I do believe that the strategy set out is a balanced approach, which helps protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, keeps children attending school, and lets the economy open up in a safe way, and the best way forward."

Officials are also working to develop a national mass testing program to replace the need for self-isolation, Johnson said.

Meanwhile, the government announced 20 million pounds ($27 million) will be allocated to boost medicine manufacturing, to encourage companies to build new factories and adopt new technologies. Johnson will launch the Medicines and Diagnostic Manufacturing Transformation Fund on a visit to North Wales on Monday.

Published : December 01, 2020

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Tim Ross, Alex Morales