Covid-19 tier vote: Labour to abstain and Tory unrest over tough new measures for England

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

MPs are set to vote on replacing England's Covid-19 lockdown with a beefed-up tier system on Tuesday, but Labour has announced it will abstain and around 100 Tories have voiced concerns over the new measures.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston believes between 50 to 70 Conservative MPs will rebel and not back the government's proposed tier system, but since Boris Johnson has a majority of 80 in the House of Commons, the new measures will pass.

England's lockdown will end at midnight on Wednesday with the tier system immediately coming into force.

What can you do in each tier from December 2? The new rules in England at a glance:

  • Tier 1: Up to six people can meet indoors or outdoors. Pubs and restaurants can open, with last orders at 10pm and closing at 11pm.

  • Tier 2: No mixing indoors, apart from support bubbles. Up to six people can meet outdoors. Pubs and restaurants can open, with last orders at 10pm and closing at 11pm - but alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal.

  • Tier 3: No mixing indoors. People can only meet outdoors in limited places such as parks and public gardens. Pubs and restaurants must close, with the exception of takeaway sales.

In all tiers, non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and personal care services can open. People in all tiers to work from home where they can do so. Full details on what you can do in each tier here.

On Monday, the government published its analysis on how the tiers would impact the UK's health and wealth, but this did little to convince either its own rebel MPs or the Labour Party.

Sir Keir Starmer said Labour still had “serious misgivings” about the government’s plans but he accepted that some restrictions were still needed.

“We will not be voting them down tomorrow. That would not be in the national interest . I think to vote down this scheme would be irresponsible,” the Labour leader said.

“We will abstain tomorrow and that will mean that the regulations go through.”

In response, a spokesperson for the prime minister said Labour's decision to abstain showed a lack of leadership from Sir Keir.

"This pandemic is one of the biggest challenges facing the country in decades, and Labour have decided to abstain on it.

"While Keir Starmer claims he offers new leadership, it’s clear to all that he actually offers no leadership at all. "Keir Starmer is playing politics in the middle of a global pandemic instead of working with the government to find a way through this difficult time for the British people."We will continue to engage, listen and work with MPs who have concerns.

"Our Covid Winter Plan provides a stable and consistent approach which will steer the country through to the spring."

Labour's abstention means we'll all soon be living under the tough new measures, says Political Correspondent Paul Brand

Earlier on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned Tory MPs threatening to rebel that backing them is key in avoiding a third national lockdown.

His plea came as Boris Johnson said on Monday it would be wrong to “take our foot off the throat of the beast” now, with up to 100 Tories unhappy about the tiered approach for England.

The prime minister acknowledged that “lots of people think that they are in the wrong tier” but insisted the measures set to come into force on Wednesday are needed to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The latest warnings came as the government acknowledged in its impact assessment that the new controls will have a “significant” impact on the economy but said allowing the disease to run unchecked would be “much worse” for public health.

A failure to maintain strong controls would lead to the NHS being overwhelmed and result in an “intolerable” loss of life, the analysis published ahead of a crunch Commons vote on the restrictions on Tuesday added.

Mr Hancock said that “we’ve got this virus back under control” thanks to the lockdown but that “while we can let up a little, we can’t afford to let up a lot”.

And the Cabinet minister directly appealed to Tory backbenchers who may oppose the restrictions that will see 99% of England facing major restrictions on hospitality and mixing with other households.

Asked during a Downing Street press conference if Conservatives thinking of rebelling are acting irresponsibly, he said: “I would urge all MPs right across the House to vote for the tiered system.

“The tiered system has a lower set of restrictions than the national lockdown in all three tiers.

“Unfortunately though, we do have to have the higher tier restrictions – and in particular Tier 3 restrictions – in place so that we can have confidence that we can keep getting this virus down, and then keep it under control right across the country.

“And that way, it is the best way to avoid a third lockdown. And it is the most proportionate way to take the action that we need to keep people safe, and to stop the NHS being overwhelmed.”

Earlier in the day, Mr Johnson insisted the tiers are needed while “the scientific cavalry really are almost here”, as he said a jab could be available “in a few weeks”.

“We can’t afford to take our foot off the throat of the beast, to take our foot off the gas, we can’t afford to let it out of control again,” he told reporters during a visit to a facility of pharmaceutical firm Wockhardt in Wales, where it is hoped a vaccine will be produced

“The tiering system is tough, but it’s designed to be tough and to keep it under control.

“I know that lots of people think that they are in the wrong tier and I understand people’s frustration.”

Meanwhile, the government’s impact assessment acknowledged the “knock-on implications” of restrictions on other health services, mental health and physical wellbeing as well as the economic impact.

The document pointed to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast of an 11.3% slump in gross domestic product (GDP) – a key measure of the economy’s size and health.

But it said the alternative of allowing Covid-19 to grow exponentially “is much worse for public health” and stressed the importance of keeping the R number – the reproduction rate of the virus – below 1.

“At the outset of the most difficult time of year for the NHS, and with hospital admissions already high, a sustained period with R above 1 would result in hospitals rapidly becoming overwhelmed,” it warned.

“This could lead to many more Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 deaths that would have been preventable were the NHS to remain within its bed capacity.”

Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper, who chairs the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs who are sceptical of further restrictions, said they would “read and analyse” the data overnight.

But he added: “I am disappointed MPs, journalists and the public have been given so little time to digest information of this magnitude.”

Despite being offered another chance to vote on the restrictions early next year – meaning the measures could lapse on February 3 – numerous MPs said they still have reservations.

The prime minister’s argument for stringent restrictions will be boosted by new figures suggesting coronavirus infections fell by almost a third in England during the second national lockdown.

There was a 30% drop in cases across the country over almost a fortnight this month, the latest interim findings from Imperial College London’s React study showed.