Would speeding up the vaccine programme placate Tory MPs?

More than 75 per cent of England will be in the top tier of coronavirus restrictions from midnight after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a large number of areas would move up into Tier 4. This is part of an attempt to contain the spread of the new variant of Covid-19, as hospitals come under what Hancock described as ‘significant pressure’ to treat surging numbers of patients with the virus. Hancock was speaking on what he described as a day of ‘mixed emotions’, and he was naturally keen to emphasise the difference that the approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine would make to the length of time people will be subject

Could 30 per cent of Brits have some Covid immunity?

How big is the job of vaccination? The aim is herd immunity, to protect enough people so that the virus starts to run out of people to infect and rates fall. This is expected to happen when between 60 to 80 per cent of the population is protected, so quite a job for the NHS. Until this is achieved, ministers seek to use lockdown as a tool to keep the R below 1. This means the cycle of lockdown and release could be with us for some time, especially in light of the new ‘mutant’ strain of the virus. But are ministers seeing the whole picture? As a professor of

Will local tiers prevent another Tory rebellion?

Tomorrow will see the next flashpoint in the row between Conservative MPs and the government over the tiered system, with the publication of new allocations today, following a review of the restrictions. Backbenchers have been led to believe by ministers that there will be a more localised approach to the tiers, which is something they called for in the recent rebellion on the vote reintroducing the system. In conversations with individual MPs, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has accepted that the decision this week to split parts of Essex and Hertfordshire in order to put the areas with high infection rates into Tier 3 set a precedent for the rest of

James Forsyth

Keir Starmer’s late criticism of Christmas easing

Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer both assumed that today was the last PMQs before Christmas, suggesting that they don’t expect Parliament to be sitting next Wednesday. Their exchanges were particularly unenlightening this week. Starmer argued that his concerns about the tier system had been justified by the fact that cases are rising in three quarters of tier 2 areas and half of tier 3. Johnson again attacked him for abstaining on the vote on the tier system. Interestingly, Starmer set himself fully against the Christmas easing calling it ‘the next big mistake’ and approvingly quoted the joint Health Service Journal / British Medical Journal editorial, which called for a ban

Full list: the Tory tier rebels

This evening, the House of Commons voted to enact the new tiered system, which will come into force when the national lockdown ends this week. Boris Johnson did not emerge unscathed though, with 78 MPs voting against his proposals, including 55 MPs from his own party. Labour leader Keir Starmer instructed his MPs to abstain on the vote, but 15 decided to vote against the government’s plans. Below is the full list of MPs who voted against thetier restrictions: Conservatives Steve Baker Robert Syms Adam Afriyie Imran Ahmad Khan Graham Brady Andrew Bridgen Paul Bristow Christopher Chope Greg Clark James Daly Philip Davies David Davis Jonathan Djanogly Jackie Doyle-Price Richard

Nick Tyrone

Labour’s abstentions show Keir Starmer at his worst

A vote will be held in the House of Commons today, which will decide the freedoms Britons will have from this week, possibly until spring. Yet the official opposition is planning to abstain. There have also been rumours that if Boris Johnson does somehow get a Brexit deal with the EU this week, Labour will abstain on that vote as well. Two of the biggest Commons votes of our era – one built around the greatest health crisis of our times and what that means for individual freedoms in this country, the other about our future trade relationship with our immediate neighbours – and Labour appear to have decided not

What can pubs serve as a ‘substantial meal’?

When the new tiered restrictions come into force this week, many pubs and bars around the country will be wondering if they can keep their doors open. While Tier 3 venues have effectively been forced to close, pubs in Tier 2 (which covers around 50 per cent of England) have been told they can only serve alcohol to customers alongside a ‘substantial meal’. But what counts as substantial? Environment minister George Eustice attempted to clarify this on LBC radio this morning, when he suggested that a scotch egg would probably count, as long as it was brought over on a plate.  But Mr Steerpike has noticed that ministers seemed to

If tiers don’t work, expect a third wave in the new year

‘The difficulty is that we’re coming out of the tough autumn measures, out of the lockdown… with the incidence of the disease still pretty high,’ Boris Johnson explained on Friday. It is against this backdrop that he finds himself trying to sell tougher Covid rules as England emerges from the November lockdown. It is an especially difficult sell, of course, when an area has been placed in a higher tier than before the lockdown – even if, as in many instances, cases are now lower than when the tier system was first introduced. It understandably appears incoherent and arbitrary. The Prime Minister’s case is that he hates lockdowns too, but

The gamble Boris feels he must take

Both Boris Johnson and Robert Jenrick have used their media appearances today to try and calm Tory MPs after yesterday’s announcement of the new Covid tiers. But the problem, as I say in the Times today, is that Tory MPs know these restrictions are unlikely to be eased anytime soon. Downing Street has been driven by a dread that the NHS may be overwhelmed It would be surprising if the government decided to loosen things up before it has seen the effect Christmas relaxations will have on the case rate. We know that government advisers think that for every day of Christmas easing there will need to be five days of

Watch: Lindsay Hoyle blasts the online tiers

Mr Steerpike was not exactly impressed when the government launched a new website feature this morning to tell people which tier they were going to be in – and which promptly crashed, leaving people in limbo. But if you were left disappointed by the tech blunder, that was nothing compared to the Speaker of the House’s reaction, when he found out in Parliament the government had put the new tiers list online. After being told by Labour’s Valerie Vaz that the government had dropped the information online, before alerting the House, a furious Lindsay Hoyle lambasted the government for treating the Commons with disrespect. The only silver lining, according to

John Connolly

Full list: Boris Johnson’s new tiers

The government has revealed today which areas will be moved into different tiers at the end of the national lockdown on 2 December. And as expected, Boris Johnson has decided to take a hard-line approach to the new restrictions, before the regulations are relaxed over the Christmas period. Only three areas in England have been kept in the lowest Tier 1, two of which are not on the mainland. Only the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall have been spared tighter restrictions. The vast majority of the country will be kept in Tier 2 at the beginning of December, which means that mixing between household bubbles will

Tiers until March, Boris tells MPs

Boris Johnson’s statement to the Commons announcing the end of the national lockdown was meant to hit an optimistic note. However, he faced two hurdles when it came to achieving this.  Firstly, his internet connection in No. 10 broke down and Johnson was cut off from MPs midway through the session. Secondly, the measures he announced in place of the national lockdown can’t really be described as a great liberation; social distancing is here for the foreseeable future. What’s more, those who find themselves in the new ramped up Tier 3 – with the tiers for each area to be announced on Thursday – could struggle to see much difference at all with what

John Connolly

What will the new tiered system look like?

Anyone who was hoping that things would go back to normal when the national lockdown ends next month will be sorely disappointed today. This afternoon, Boris Johnson is expected to outline in Parliament a new tougher tiered system, which will come into force on 3 December, when the national lockdown ends. The Prime Minister is then expected to reveal which areas will be in each tier on Thursday, after consulting the latest coronavirus infection data. Most areas are expected to be moved into Tiers 2 and 3. So what will the new tiers actually involve? The papers report this morning that the rules on socialising will stay roughly the same

My confusing life on the border of Tiers 1 and 2

As I scoffed down a fabulous supper in a candlelit room full of ecstatic diners, it struck me that this was what the Jazz Age must have felt like. This was a night out at what can only be described as a speakeasy, complete with live music from a crooner serenading us from a safe distance, beyond the spatter range. The mood among the merrymakers was very much one of living for today, for tomorrow we may be either dead of Covid (unlikely) or fined for breaking draconian bans on everything, everywhere (highly likely). Are the police to raid the homes of people in Tier 1 to make sure no