Boris Johnson urged to publish ‘public-friendly’ data on route out of lockdown

Simon Murphy Political correspondent
·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock

The former minister behind a group of more than 50 Conservative MPs in northern England who have warned Boris Johnson their constituencies risk being left behind amid the pandemic has urged Downing Street to provide people with clear data showing a route out of restrictions.

Jake Berry called for information to be published in an “easily digestible, consumer-facing, public-friendly way” akin to how church halls use large mock thermometers to display progress in fundraising efforts.

It follows a letter from the Northern Research Group, led by Berry, a former northern powerhouse minister, in which 55 MPs expressed fears that the government’s “levelling up” agenda was being abandoned. The letter will set alarm bells ringing in No 10 as many of the MPs represent former Labour constituencies in the north of England which helped Johnson win a majority at last year’s election.

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With restrictions continuing to be extended, 8.2 million people in England will be living under tier 3 lockdown this week – forcing the closure of pubs, bars and other parts of the hospitality sector – including vast swathes of the north. The letter to the prime minister on Monday called for a roadmap out of the tiered lockdown system, warning that restrictions are disproportionately affecting people in the north.

Fleshing out his position, Berry told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme on Tuesday: “I think we need consistent and clear data to be published that shows not just council leaders, but also the public and businesses alike, how they are doing in tackling this pandemic.

“If you visit any church hall or scout hut around the country you’ll see the sort of thermometer on the wall telling them how they’re getting towards their new roof and incentivising people, providing them data, bringing them with you, letting them understand that they are part of this great battle we’re fighting against Covid. [It] will, I think, increase compliance and also a route out of these restrictions is obviously part of a route to recovery, which is what we have written to the prime minister seeking as a group of northern MPs.”

Tier one – medium

  • The “rule of six” applies, meaning socialising in groups larger than six people is prohibited whether indoors or outdoors.

  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work and are not counted as being part of the six-person limit.

  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate but pubs and restaurants must ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and close between 10pm and 5am.

  • Takeaway food can continue to be sold after 10pm if ordered by phone or online.

  • Schools and universities remain open.

  • Places of worship remain open but people must not mingle in a group of more than six.

  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people who can attend (15 and 30 respectively).

  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors, and – if the rule of six is followed – indoors.

Tier two – high

  • People are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting.

  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work.

  • The rule of six continues to apply for socialising outdoors, for instance in a garden or public space like a park or beach.

  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate but pubs and restaurants must ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and close between 10pm and 5am.

  • Takeaway food can continue to be sold after 10pm if ordered online or by phone.

  • Schools and universities remain open.

  • Places of worship remain open but people must not mingle in a group of more than six.

  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people who can attend (15 and 30 respectively).

  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors but will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with those they do not live with (or share a support bubble with), or for youth or disability sport.

  • Travel is permitted to amenities that are open, for work or to access education, but people are advised to reduce the number of journeys where possible.

Tier three – very high

  • People are prohibited from socialising with anybody they do not live with, or have not formed a support bubble with, in any indoor setting, private garden or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events.

  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work.

  • The rule of six continues to apply to outdoor public spaces, such as parks, beaches, public gardens or sports venues.

  • Pubs and bars are only permitted to remain open to operate as restaurants, in which case alcohol can only be served as part of a substantial meal.

  • Schools and universities remain open.

  • Places of worship remain open but household mixing is not permitted.

  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people attending (15 and 30 respectively) but wedding receptions are not allowed.

  • The rules for exercise classes and organised sport are the same as in tier 2. They can continue to take place outdoors but will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with people they do not live with (or share a support bubble with), or for youth or disability sport. However, in Merseyside, gyms were ordered to close when it entered tier 3.

  • Travelling outside a very high alert level area or entering a very high alert level area should be avoided other than for things such as work, education or youth services, to meet caring responsibilities or if travelling through as part of a longer journey.

  • Residents of a tier 3 area should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK, while people who live in a tier 1 or tier 2 area should avoid staying overnight in a very high alert level area.

Asked what more he was asking of the government when the health secretary has said the rate of infection needs to be falling and hospitals need to not be overfull, Berry added: “What I would like to see on a personal basis is that information provided in an easily digestible, consumer-facing, public-friendly way that can show people a route out of these restrictions.”

In the letter, MPs expressed concerns “that the cost of Covid could be paid for by the downgrading of the levelling-up agenda, and northern constituencies like ours will be left behind”. The group asked the prime minister to create “a pathway down the tiering system” and to accelerate key road, rail and social infrastructure projects, and job creation. He should also develop “a tailored economic recovery plan” for the north, they said.

But the business minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the government’s support for the north and Midlands, highlighting that 45 places due to benefit from its £3.5bn towns fund are in the north and 30 are in the Midlands.

Pressed on why northern Tory MPs were expressing their concern, Zahawi said they were “champions for their area”, telling Sky News: “They want to make sure that their northern powerhouse strategy that Jake Berry and others have worked so hard on – with myself, I’m the local growth minister as well as being the business and industry minister – is delivered.

“And that is absolutely our focus, and you will see that coming through in our refresh of the industrial strategy.”

Meanwhile, the Liverpool mayor, Joe Anderson, has backed the idea of a possible fourth tier of Covid restrictions if the third category that his city is in does not go far enough to halt the spread of the virus. Anderson told BBC Breakfast he was not opposed to the introduction of “tougher measures if necessary”, saying he would review the results of tier 3 restrictions in 14 to 16 days’ time.