Johnson tries to win over Tories as Covid-law revolt grows

Boris Johnson promised the new restrictions will automatically come to an end in February. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered concessions in an effort to win over critics in his own Conservative Party who are threatening to oppose his plan for tougher pandemic rules in a crucial vote on Tuesday (Dec 1).

The premier promised the new restrictions, which keep most of England under tight curbs when the national lockdown ends on Dec 2, will be put to a vote again in January and automatically come to an end in February.

Appealing to members of Parliament to back the laws, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab declined to rule out a third national lockdown early next year if the country fails to keep control over the coronavirus now.

He said the government was "listening" to members of Parliament and would provide them with more information on the costs and benefits of the proposed plan before it's put to a vote. "We want to come out of the national level lockdown and stay out of it," Raab told the BBC's Andrew Marr show on Sunday (Nov 29).

As many as 100 members of Johnson's Conservative Party are unhappy with his new three-tier system to contain the coronavirus, fearing it is too harsh because it groups broad regions together under tight restrictions even if some areas are not hotspots.

The opposition Labour Party has yet to announce whether it will vote for the new rules. If it opposes the plan, and Johnson can't persuade his own side, the government strategy will face defeat, leaving Johnson racing to put together a new set of pandemic restrictions before the lockdown ends on Dec 2.

Senior Tories who oppose the three-tier rules say they are too heavy-handed and will cause unnecessary damage to the economy, in particular costing jobs in the hospitality industry, which is facing strict limits to operations. They want the government to publish its full assessment of the impact of pandemic measures on public health, society and the economy.

As a concession to persuade Tories to back the strategy, the government promised that the regulations would automatically expire in February under a "sunset" clause. Before then, MPs will be given a chance to vote on whether to extend the rules in January, the foreign secretary said in broadcast interviews on Sunday.

The rules will be reviewed every two weeks and regions in the top tier with the tightest curbs could be moved down a level if infection rates fall, Raab said.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said 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 modelling and the evidence that he sees," Harper said in an interview with Times Radio.

"I simply don't know whether it's true."

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