Northern MPs urge Boris Johnson to detail 'road map out of lockdown'

  • Video report by ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan

More than 50 northern Tory MPs have written to Boris Johnson demanding he outlines a “road-map out of lockdown” for their regions, as more are placed under the toughest coronavirus restrictions.

The prime minister has been warned his manifesto pledge of leveling up the country is under threat by strict Tier 3 lockdowns currently only affecting northern regions.

More than eight million people in England – predominantly in the North – will be under the most stringent Covid-19 restrictions by the end of the week, with Warrington the latest area to be placed in Tier 3.

The measures – which came into force in the early hours of Tuesday – mean pubs and bars in the Cheshire town must close unless they serve substantial meals.

Households are also banned from mixing indoors or in private gardens and beer gardens, while betting shops, adult gaming centres, casinos and soft play centres have been shut.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Nottingham and the boroughs of Broxtowe, Gedling and Rushcliffe will move into Tier 3 on Thursday, with details expected to be set out later on Tuesday.

The two areas will join the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and South Yorkshire in Tier 3, placing 8.2 million people in England under the toughest restrictions.

Analysis shows the rate of coronavirus cases in Nottingham fell from 726.6 in the seven days to October 15 to 464.4 in the week to October 22, with 1,546 new cases.

The city had the highest Covid-19 rate in the country in the seven days to October 15, but was 22nd on a list of local authority areas by rate of new cases in the seven days to October 22.

In Warrington, however, cases rose from 343.3 to 395.2 per 100,000 people over the same period, with 830 new cases.

The North-South divide in the tier system has sparked concern among Tory MPs, with the newly-formed Northern Research Group writing to the prime minister to express their fears.

The group – led by former northern powerhouse minister Jake Berry – urged Mr Johnson to set out a “clear road-map” out of lockdown restrictions.

Mr Berry said: “The virus has exposed in sharp relief the deep structural and systemic disadvantage faced by our communities and it threatens to continue to increase the disparity between the North and South still further.

“Our constituents have been some of the hardest hit by this virus with many losing jobs, businesses, and livelihoods.

“Never has there been a more pertinent and urgent political and economic case to support people living in the North.

“However, instead of moving forwards on our shared ambitions, the cost of Covid and the virus itself threatens to send the North into reverse.”

Business minister Nadhim Zahawi admitted the backbenchers "quite rightly are concerned" but said he hoped to "reassure them" with millions in additional support.

He said of the 101 towns due to receive a portion of £3.6 billion, 45 of them are in the north.

He also pointed out how 14 new hospitals are due to be built in the north, and the industrial strategy refresh - which provides retraining opportunities - "will very much focus on the leveling up agenda".

On an exit strategy, he said the UK would need to see the national R number fall below 1 before stepping away from the tiered approach to lockdowns.

"The rate of increase of infections is slowing down slightly, not low enough for us to take our eye off the ball, it is far too high still, we're not at R 1 yet, but we have to work together to do this," he added.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to levelling up across the country and building back better after coronavirus.

“We stood at the last election on a solemn promise that we would improve people’s lives, and although the pandemic has meant 2020 is not the year we all hoped it would be, our ambitions for the country are unchanged.”

Some 40 Conservative MPs have publicly signed the letter, while a further 14 have had their names redacted.