Theresa May led a furious Tory assault on the national lockdown plan today accusing the government of mangling figures to force the policy through.
The former PM delivered a damning assessment of Boris Johnson’s handling of the situation, saying a controversial claim that deaths could hit 4,000 a day by next month was ‘wrong before it was even used’.
She said Mr Johnson – who scuttled out of the Commons as she started speaking – must open up to more scrutiny, warning that the extraordinary national restrictions coming into force at midnight will ‘shatter livelihoods’.
The intervention came as a slew of Conservative MPs vowed to rebel, despite the premier begging them to trust him, insisting he cannot ‘risk British lives’ by avoiding action.
Kicking off the stormy debate, the PM said he never thought he would be imposing such draconian measures – including ordering people to stay at home and shutting non-essential retail, bars and restaurants for a month.
But Mr Johnson said he had been ‘confronted’ with the prospect of the NHS ‘collapsing’ under the weight of coronavirus patients, and had looked at the grim experience of European countries suffering another peak.
‘I’m not prepared to take the risk with the lives of the British people,’ he said.
However, in her stinging rebuke to the government, Mrs May 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.’
While Sir Keir Starmer’s backing for the lockdown means the PM is assured it will be rubber-stamped by MPs, he is scrambling to contain a rising tide of anger on his own benches.
Despite government whips hoping they had limited the scale of the mutiny to just a handful, a series politicians of broke cover this morning to say they will oppose the squeeze.
Boris Johnson (pictured right today) is expected to win a vote on a second lockdown that is due to come into force from midnight. But Theresa May (left) delivered a damning assessment of Boris Johnson’s handling of the situation, saying a controversial claim that deaths could hit 4,000 a day by next month was ‘wrong before it was even used’
Department of Health figures saw a 12.5 per cent decrease in the number of cases from last Tuesday when figures reached 22,885 but were higher than yesterday’s figures when cases reached 18,950
Fatalities rose by 8.17 per cent from last Tuesday after it was announced that another 395 people had died from the virus today – bringing the total death toll in the country to 47,250
England’s three-tier lockdown strategy is bringing down coronavirus cases in badly affected areas, according to official data that raises questions about whether the national intervention is really needed
Covid patients in England ‘equivalent to 22 full hospitals’
There are the equivalent of 22 hospitals full of coronavirus patients in England, the head of the NHS said today.
Sir Simon Stevens said another two hospitals had been added to the tally just since the PM’s dramatic press conference on Saturday.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there had been a ‘very substantial’ increase in Covid-19 admissions in October.
‘We began early September with under 500 coronavirus patients in hospitals,’ he said.
‘By the beginning of October that had become 2,000. As of today that is just under 11,000.
‘So, put another way, we’ve got 22 hospitals’ worth of coronavirus patients across England.
‘And indeed, even since Saturday, when the Prime Minister gave his press conference, we filled another two hospitals full of severely ill coronavirus patients.’
Mrs May also raised concerns about a lack of data on the cost of the Government’s Covid-19 decisions, including on mental health, domestic abuse, non-Covid-19 treatments, ‘possibly more suicides’ and to the economy.
She told MPs: ‘Jobs lost, livelihoods shattered, businesses failing, whole sectors damaged. What sort of airline industry are we going to have coming out of this? What sort of hospitality sector? What sort of small independent shops will be left?
‘The Government must have made this analysis, made this assessment: let us see it and make our own judgments.’
On public worship, Mrs May added: ‘My concern is that the Government today making it illegal to conduct an act of public worship, for the best of intentions, sets a precedent that could be misused for a Government in the future with the worst of intentions.
‘And it has unintended consequences. 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?’
Allies of Mr Johnson revealed he had written Mrs May a note apologising for having to leave the chamber during her speech, as he had a meeting. ‘It was not a deliberate snub in any way. He has great respect for her,’ one said.
But there were audible jeers as he left. And former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith swiped afterwards: ‘He must have been busy.’
Declaring that he will vote against the lockdown, Sir Iain said whoever leaked the Government’s plan on Friday should be sacked.
‘Whoever did it should be sacked, strung up to dry, come here to apologise, grovelled out the door on hands and knees and beaten on the way out frankly,’ he said.
‘Because, to be honest with you, this is appalling what they have done.
‘It is appalling because what they did was bounce the Government and they bounced the Government because I’d like to think that the Government would have then spent its time investigating the data that was being presented to them that has now subsequently unravelled in the last few days.’
He added: ‘This decision, I believe, was not necessary now. I believe the Government can use the … tier system to make sure that we do press down on it.
‘The evidence from all those areas that we have looked at – Liverpool and the north-west – is that we are beginning to see this come down.’
Sunak warns of economic hit as he prepares to give furlough details tomorrow
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned the second lockdown in England will have ‘significant additional impacts’ on the UK economy – as he prepares to give more details of financial support tomorrow.
In a letter responding to a request from the Treasury Select Committee for an impact assessment, Mr Sunak said while there will be a hit from the latest restrictions, it is likely to be different to that seen after the spring lockdown.
Writing to the committee’s chair Mel Stride, Mr Sunak said this time schools remain open, while businesses are also more prepared for home working.
But he signalled the new lockdown could heap more misery on Britain’s jobs market and battered company balance sheets.
He said: ‘The further restrictions announced by the Government will have significant additional impacts on the economy and society.
‘However, the Government’s policy is not the same as the previous national restrictions and nor is the environment in which these restrictions are coming into force.’
He added: ‘Some businesses may be more prepared for working from home than was the case prior to previous restrictions, while the labour market enters these restrictions in a weaker state than in March, and so do corporate balance sheets, including in the worst-affected sectors.’
Mr Sunak is expected to give more details of the furlough extension in a statement to the Commons tomorrow.
Shipley MP Philip Davies also lashed out at the policy, saying ‘so-called Conservatives’ in government were ‘destroying jobs and livelihoods’. ‘People are not stupid. They can see that the rules don’t make sense.’
Dangerously for Mr Johnson, the opponents included Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful backbench 1922 committee, and vice-chair Sir Charles Walker.
Sir Graham asked whether the government had the ‘right’ to impose some of the measures or was being ‘arrogant’ assuming it could ‘tell consenting adults with whom they are allowed to sleep’. ‘The thing that troubles me is that the government is reaching too far into the private lives of our constituents,’ he said.
Sir Charles said he was living in fear of ‘something much darker’ than the impact of the virus, warning of the limits on civil liberties.
Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay said: ‘I’m being asked to spend £50billion extra today, or perhaps even more. There is no data as to what this means on other health issues, there is no assessment for what this means for families not able to see grandchildren or to see off loved ones in their final days.
‘I’m here to make a decision. I will not be abstaining, I’m paid to have a view and tonight I will be voting against this, I’m sorry.’
Mr Johnson used a pre-recorded message to business leaders at the CBI conference earlier to vow that the restrictions will come to an end on December 2.
But challenged on the issue by Sir Keir Starmer this afternoon, Mr Johnson merely pointed out the regulations will lapse on that date, and refused to rule out an extension.
‘It will be up to the House of Commons to decide thereafter what to do,’ the premier added.
Figures released yesterday showed a 12 per cent drop in infections compared to last Tuesday, as 20,018 tested positive, while Mr Johnson has admitted the R number is ‘only just above one’.
Mr Johnson said it ‘pained’ him to impose the lockdown, but it was the ‘safest’ way of getting the virus ‘back in its box’.
‘As Prime Minister, when I’m confronted with data that projects our NHS could even collapse, with deaths in the second wave potentially exceeding those in the first, and when I look at what is happening now among some of our continental friends, and I see doctors who have tested positive being ordered to work on Covid wards and patients airlifted to hospital in some other countries simply to make space, I can reach only one conclusion,’ he said.
‘I’m not prepared to take the risk with the lives of the British people.’
The PM said the tiered approach had made a difference in suppressing the Covid-19 infection rate, but added: ‘I’m sorry to say that the number of Covid patients in some hospitals is already higher than at the peak of the first wave.
‘Even in the South West, which has so far had lower case rates than most of the rest of the country, hospital admissions are over halfway to their first wave peak.’
In a bruising PMQs session before the debate started, Sir Keir attacked Mr Johnson over the ‘human cost’ of the delay in imposing a second lockdown.
‘On September 21, when the Government scientific advisers indicated the circuit break would bring the virus back under control, the number of people that day who tragically lost their lives to Covid-19 was 11,’ he said.
‘The Prime Minister ignored that advice. On Monday, 42 days later, the number of people who tragically lost their lives to Covid-19 was 397.
‘That’s a staggering 35 fold increase. Does the Prime Minister understand the human cost of his delay in acting?’
Mr Johnson responded: ‘I think I speak for many honourable members across this House when I say I don’t think any government would want to impose these measures lightly, or any parliament would want to impose these measures lightly on the people of this country.
‘And it was always right to pursue a local and a regional approach as our scientific advisers said and I’ll tell you why Mr Speaker, because that approach, that regional approach, actually was showing signs of working and still is showing signs of working.’
Mr Johnson insisted the lockdown will ‘automatically expire’ on December 2.
But Sir Keir said: ’Is he saying that if by December 2 the R rate, the infection rate, has not come below 1, and therefore on December 2 the infection rate is still rising, still rising on December 2, is he saying that come what may we will come out of lockdown with infection rates going up on December 2?
Tier Three ‘is working’ to tackle surge in cases
England’s three-tier lockdown strategy is bringing down coronavirus cases in badly affected areas, according to official data that raises questions about whether the national intervention is really needed.
On the eve of the country’s second national shutdown, on which MPs will vote later today, government statistics show that tough measures already in place appear to be working and thwarting the spread of the disease, calling into question the need for the new rules.
Numbers of people testing positive in hotspot areas such as Liverpool, Merseyside, Manchester, Lancaster and Blackpool have levelled off or even started falling in the weeks since the areas entered local lockdowns.
Almost 10million people living in the North of England are now under Tier Three restrictions, which effectively ban socialising in person.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, yesterday admitted to MPs that the reproduction rate (R) of Covid-19 in the North East could already be below one because of the effects of localised rules. During a grilling by MPs over the evidence used to justify the second lockdown, Professor Whitty admitted Tier Three has had an effect — but claimed it had not been enough to ward off an impending crisis.
And the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app yesterday claimed that the R rate for the entire UK has dropped to one. Meanwhile, the number of people testing positive has declined in recent days, with the 20,018 cases confirmed yesterday pulling the daily average down to 22,330.
Researchers have pointed out that ‘flatlining’ data suggests that local restrictions do work but needed more time to be effective and for that to show through in statistics.
‘That doesn’t seem sensible to me.’
Mr Johnson replied: ‘If he is now saying he wants to expand, protract them beyond December 2 then perhaps he should make his position clear.’
Medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were hauled before MPs yesterday to defend SAGE’s modelling.
Dramatic slides presented at a No10 press conference on Saturday suggested deaths could hit 4,000 a day next month unless action was taken, as well as hospitals being overrun within weeks.
Mr Johnson has tried to cool tensions with Tories by offering an assurance that the second lockdown will end on December 2 – despite warnings from Michael Gove it could be extended.
The Prime Minister said yesterday: ‘Whatever happens these restrictions end on December 2.
‘I think there is the prospect of a much brighter future ahead if we can make a success of these national measures and open up again in December, to give people the chance of some shopping and economic activity in the weeks leading up to Christmas and beyond.’
However, a number of Conservatives are still likely to vote against – and many more could abstain.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Baker said he was ‘not convinced’ the lockdown was necessary.
‘Compliance must be high, a month may not be long enough, the breakthroughs may not come, and so on,’ he said.
‘And if we really are locking down for this purpose, keeping schools open is a huge compromise. Most importantly, the cost-benefit is today a guess.’
While praising the PM for doing what he thought was right, Mr Baker added: ‘I am sorry that I do not feel able to impose the undoubted costs of lockdown on the basis of the necessary balancing judgment calls.
‘It is with a heavy heart that I plan to vote against this measure, but I will condemn no one for supporting lockdown if they think it will minimise harm.’
Mr Harper also confirmed he will be voting against the proposals. In an article for ConservativeHome website, he said he was concerned that the regulations give powers to use ‘reasonable force’ to PCSOs and ‘any person designated by the secretary of state’.
‘My view is that the use of reasonable force should be limited to police officers, who undergo a significant amount of training in both when and how to safely use this power,’ Mr Harper said.
‘In light of the above, I do not believe that the government has made the case for a change away from the tiered system and in favour of an England-wide national lockdown.’
Mr Bone said he had decided to vote against the new restrictions in the Commons on Wednesday following a briefing for MPs by Government scientists.
‘It seemed to me that we were being given figures that appeared to support the Government’s case but actually didn’t, and we weren’t having other figures which would have let us made a more balanced judgment,’ he said.
Dangerously for Mr Johnson, the opponents of his lockdown included Sir Graham Brady (pictured), chair of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 committee
Tory MPs Stephen McPartland and Peter Bone were among those saying they will oppose the lockdown today
Medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty (right) and Sir Patrick Vallance (left) were hauled before MPs yesterday to defend SAGE’s modelling
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made another appeal to Tories to back the national lockdown this morning
PM says sorry to business for his coronavirus ‘diktats’
Boris Johnson has apologised to businesses for the ‘nightmare’ Covid situation and vowed that England’s second national lockdown will end on December 2.
In a pre-recorded speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, the Prime Minister said: ‘I wan to apologise to all of you who are experiencing the frustrations and the nightmare of the Covid world.
‘I know how tough it has been for you and I’m full of admiration for the determination you’ve shown in persevering through this crisis.
‘I want to thank you for the heroic efforts you’ve made to look after your employees, to make your premises Covid-secure, putting in Perspex screens, all the trouble you’ve gone to in complying with the kinds of diktats that I never believed we would have to impose which, I assure you, go completely against every free market instinct I possess.
‘And, believe me, we will end these autumn measures on December 2 when they expire.’
‘I decided that what we were being fed was propaganda and not the full facts.
‘It is a bit like the dodgy dossier that Blair produced for the Iraq War. They had decided what policy they wanted and therefore produced documents to try and boost their case.’
Mr Bone said he expected around 15 Conservatives to vote against the lockdown and warned that any rebellion over 20 would be ‘very significant’ for the Government.
Mr McPartland added: ‘I am voting against another lockdown. Mental health issues are being forgotten along with the supermarket workers, delivery drivers, emergency services, NHS, carers, teachers, postmen and millions of low paid people who are still required to go to work.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made another appeal to Tories this morning.
Asked on LBC radio whether people in England could rely on December 2 being the end date, he said: ‘Put it in your diary, it is written into law.
‘The reason being is we’ve just had to take this measure for four weeks – longer than some of the circuit-breakers that were being talked about, but keeping schools open – because of the latest data.
‘For example, the last two weeks we’ve seen hospital admissions up by 90 per cent, ventilator beds used up by 65 per cent, so we have had to take that into account.’
The Cabinet minister denied that the Government had used a ‘doomsday scenario’ and ‘highly selective’ data in its modelling of the second wave’s impact when justifying the second lockdown on Saturday.
Mr Raab said: ‘I don’t think that’s right. In fairness to the science, the data is fluid, it is being updated all the time – what was being presented was a model, not a forecast.
‘We introduce restrictions, we adapt them the best we can to the information we have got.’
During the grilling by members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Labour MP Graham Stringer asked Sir Patrick if he believed he had frightened people with the bleak deaths data presented during Saturday night’s press briefing.
The Chief Scientific Adviser said: ‘I hope not and that’s certainly not the aim… I think I positioned that as a scenario from a couple of weeks ago, based on an assumption to try and get a new reasonable worst-case scenario. And if that didn’t come across then I regret that.
Defending the dossier, he added: ‘Those figures were ones done by major academic groups based on those assumptions and, in the spirit of trying to make sure that things are shared and open, they are the things that we have seen [in the data so far], and it’s important and I think people see that.’
Top scientists at King’s College London claimed today the R rate has already dropped to the crucial level of one in England
King’s’ academics, who have been tracking the size of the coronavirus outbreak since the summer, argued infections were now ‘plateauing’ and there was a ‘slight fall’ in new cases across the UK last week. Pictured: The team’s graphs show a levelling off in cases in both England and across the UK in the last week
AT A GLANCE: HOW VALLANCE AND WHITTY DEFENDED THE LOCKDOWN
SATURDAY’S GLOOMY SLIDES
The pair admitted what one MP called the ‘avalanche of data’ they presented in Saturday’s briefing may have been too much to handle for the public.
Sir Patrick said: ‘I would always like to get things simpler than they were and clearer than they were… clearly some of those slides were quite complicated.’
Commenting on one spreadsheet that showed how some hospitals are already seeing more patients than they did in the spring, Professor Whitty admitted it ‘wasn’t an ideal slide’.
But Sir Patrick defended the use of the now-infamous graph that showed a possible 4,000 deaths per day by December said it was scientifically valid and was not ‘discredited’ despite recent days’ backlash.
‘These are scenarios that are put together on assumptions,’ he said, ‘Reasonable worst case scenario is something you don’t want to happen but could reasonably happen if things went in a certain direction’.
TIER THREE WAS WORKING – JUST NOT FAST ENOUGH
Professor Chris Whitty said he believed the local lockdown measures were working but that the outbreak was too large for them to control alone.
Professor Whitty said: ‘I am confident Tier Two has had an effect and that Tier Three has had a bigger effect.
‘The communities in the North and Midlands in particular… have responded remarkably to this. And because of that, I am confident the rates are substantially lower than they would’ve been if this had not happened.
‘But the early indications we have at the present is that this has not achieved getting the R below one – it has brought it much closer to one – but it is still doubling over a longer period of time.’
CHANCE OF LOCKDOWN ENDING ON DECEMBER 2
Whitty said the aim of the lockdown is to ensure that there is a ‘realistic possibility’ that after December 2 England will be able to move onto a ‘different state of play’.
He suggested that when the circuit breaker ends the country will move into a middle ground, likely with tougher restrictions than are in place now, but not as strict as the ones that will precede them for the next month.
SECOND WAVE WOULD BE WORSE WITHOUT TOUGH ACTION
The scientists rammed home their warning that, without tougher action than the slow-moving local tier system, the second wave will become worse than the first one.
They said they had been discussing this prospect in meetings with Government officials ‘virtually every day’ for the last month.
‘I think all of us would say that the rates will probably be lower than that top peak but I think reaching the peak that we reached in April strikes me as an entirely realistic situation,’ Professor Whitty said.
LOCKDOWN IS A DIFFICULT DECISION ‘BETWEEN BAD CHOICES’ – BUT NOTHING TO DO WITH SCIENTISTS
Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick repeatedly distanced themselves from the Government’s decision-making process and said what action is actually taken is out of their hands.
They have no role in assessing economic consequences, they said, and could provide only scientific advice and help ministers to interpret data.
‘These are very difficult decisions, we have no illusions,’ Professor Whitty said.
‘None of us are under any illusions. We’re choosing between bad choices – none of us should shy away from that
Professor Whitty conceded that the 4,000 daily deaths prediction was unlikely to come true because the modelling was a worst-case scenario based on a situation where no extra measures were brought in.
Meanwhile police chiefs in the North West have warned they will come down hard on anyone who believed they could ‘flout’ the restrictions.
In a joint open letter, the chief constables of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria said they would particularly target those organising music events or other large gatherings, and those who refuse to self-isolate.
‘To the minority who feel the restrictions don’t apply to them, be prepared to face the consequences of greater levels of enforcement,’ they said.
Ahead of the Commons vote, Mr Johnson warned of ‘fatalities running in the thousands’ if no action was taken as cases across the country continued to rise.
At the same time he sought to offer hope, telling Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting that the R number – the reproduction rate of the virus – was ‘only just above 1’ and the new measures would bring it back below that threshold.
Unlike the last national lockdown in March, schools and colleges will remain open under the new controls, which are due to run to December 2.
However pubs and restaurants will be forced to close, except for takeaways and deliveries, as will gyms, entertainment venues and non-essential shops.
People will be banned from socialising with other households indoors, and only allowed to meet one other person from another household outdoors.
There has been criticism, however, over rules which mean children’s grassroots sports will be banned outside school settings.
Some Tories have also hit out at a ban on communal worship, which has meant church services marking Remembrance Sunday have had to be cancelled.
In the House of Lords, the senior peer Lord Cormack said it was ‘imbecilic’ that veterans in their 90s would forced to stand outside in the cold and rain because they were not allowed into church.
However, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said the restrictions had to been seen as part of a ‘package of measures’ to get the R rate below one.
‘The danger in trying to pick apart each one, and when you get down to the ones towards a lower level where you might say, ‘Well, this doesn’t make much of an impact on its own’, is that you keep cutting things off and then you end up with a sub-optimal package,’ he said.
The latest move comes amid conflicting data about the current spread of the virus, with the Covid Symptom Tracker app, run by King’s College London (KCL), suggesting a a slight drop in new infections across England, Wales and Scotland.
Professor Tim Spector, who leads the study, said it showed ‘a plateauing and slight fall in new cases’, with an R number of 1.0.
However data from the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge put the R number above one in most regions, with an estimated 77,600 new infections a day across England.
It predicted that by mid-November the number of deaths each day was likely to be between 380 and 710.
Ministers hope that when the restrictions are lifted the Government will be able to return to a tiered series of localised restrictions for England, depending on the infection rate in a particular area.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has, however, said the lockdown will mean the hardest border between England and Wales for ‘several centuries at least’, with travel between the two countries banned without reasonable excuse.
The controls are set to come into force just as Wales prepares to end its two-and-a-half week ‘firebreak’, with schools, shops, pubs and restaurants set to reopen from Monday.
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