Politics

COVID-19: MPs approve new coronavirus tiers to replace England’s lockdown

England’s new tiered system of coronavirus restrictions has been approved by MPs, although a sizable number of Conservatives appear to have rebelled against the measures.

The system was approved by 291 votes to 78, a majority of 213.

A total of 55 Tories rebelled against the government, with 53 voting against the COVID-19 restrictions and a further two acting as tellers for the noes.

A total of 15 Labour MPs and eight DUP MPs voted against the tiered system.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Conservative Julian Lewis, who have had the whip removed by their respective parties and sit as independents, also opposed the measures.

A further 16 Conservatives abstained, including former prime minister Theresa May and ex-minister Andrea Leadsom.

Sky’s chief political correspondent Jon Craig said he had been told by MPs in the chamber that the prime minister was “standing at the door of the ‘aye’ lobby” and “begging” Tory MPs to come over from the “no” lobby and vote with the government.

Labour’s decision to abstain meant that Boris Johnson was never in danger of losing.

Sir Keir Starmer said that while his party has “serious misgivings” about the restrictions, it would not be in the national interest to vote them down when the virus still poses a “serious risk”.

The Liberal Democrats, who have 11 MPs in the Commons, also abstained.

However, the size of the Conservative rebellion – bigger than in the vote to approve the second national lockdown last month – demonstrates that the prime minister has a job on his hands to maintain support for the regional measures.

Now that MPs have approved the tiered system, the restrictions will come into effect when England’s second lockdown ends tomorrow (Wednesday).

“We welcome tonight’s vote which endorses our Winter Plan, brings an end to the national restrictions and returns England to a tiered system,” a government spokesman said.

“This will help to safeguard the gains made during the past month and keep the virus under control.

“We will continue to work with MPs who have expressed concerns in recent days.”

Tory opposition has been driven by the fact that 99% of England’s population will fall under the two toughest tiers, which are stricter than the previous tiers in place before lockdown.

About 32 million people – covering 57.3% of England – will fall into Tier 2.

But 23.3 million people – 41.5% of the population – are going to be placed in Tier 3, the highest level of restrictions.

Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have been designated for Tier 1.

In Tier 3 areas, hospitality venues will be closed in the run-up to Christmas unless they can provide takeaway or delivery services, with households will be forbidden from mixing indoors.

Many MPs have questioned the basis for the tier decisions and raised fears about the economic impact.

Conservative rebel leader Mark Harper said “we very much regret” that so many MPs “felt forced to vote against” the measures.

“The House of Commons has spoken and we hope that the government will take on board the comments we have been making on the need for better data and modelling, regional cost-benefit analysis and on trusting MPs with the information they need to make such important decisions on behalf of their constituents,” he said.

“We must find a way to break the transmission of the disease, recapture the public’s support and confidence, end this devastating cycle of repeated restrictions and start living in a sustainable way until an effective and safe vaccine is successfully rolled out across the population.”

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Addressing the Commons earlier, the PM told MPs there was a “compelling case” for the tiered system.

He acknowledged “people’s feelings of injustice” about the tiers they have been placed in, while also hinting that the government could look at smaller areas when deciding tiering allocations in the future.

Mr Johnson also promised pubs which do not serve food would get a one-off payment of £1,000 in December.

However, the British Beer & Pub Association has said that on its own, the money was “nowhere near enough to stave off thousands of pub closures”.

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