Pubs and restaurants hit by new coronavirus restrictions will be given extra cash to help get them through Christmas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce as he tries to see off a growing Tory rebellion.
By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor and Charles Hymas, Home Affairs Editor www.telegraph.co.uk
The Prime Minister has decided the potential closure of tens of thousands of premises is an unacceptable price to pay for a new system that places 99 per cent of England under the toughest Tier 2 or 3 restrictions from Wednesday.
A Government source said: “There are already grants of £2,000 and £3,000 for businesses in Tiers 2 and 3, but we recognise that we need to do more.”
The new tiers system, which has been described as a death knell for thousands of pubs and restaurants, requires all premises in Tier 3 to offer only takeaway service, while those in Tier 2 can only serve alcohol with “substantial meals” – restrictions which will apply to 99 per cent of the country.
Mr Johnson will on Monday publish an analysis of the economic, social and health consequences of the tiers amid warnings from up to 100 Tory MPs that they cannot back the plans without knowing their effect.
In a letter published on Sunday evening, Mr Johnson issued a direct appeal to the rebels in the backbench Covid Recovery Group (CRG), saying there was “every reason” to hope and believe “the worst is nearly behind us, so now more than ever is the time to demonstrate unity and resolve.”
Between 70 and 100 Tory MPs are threatening to oppose the Government when the new tiers regime is put to a vote in Parliament on Tuesday, and Mr Johnson has had to up the stakes after promises of a review of the tiers in December and vote to end them in January failed to assuage them.
It leaves the Prime Minister relying on Labour votes, and the opposition has previously demanded extra cash for businesses hit by the toughest coronavirus restrictions in order to support the new system.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer is to decide if Labour backs or abstains in Tuesday’s vote after he met with Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, on Sunday.
A senior Government source said: “We understand the fact that the hospitality industry has been particularly hard-hit during the pandemic. The Christmas period is a time of year when establishments would expect to be particularly busy so we are looking at how we can support them over the festive period.”
The Prime Minister said in a newspaper article on Sunday he “grieves” for the pub trade due to the effect of the restrictions he has imposed.
And in a letter to MPs, Mr Johnson admitted pubs and restaurants – which fear mass closures under the Tier 2 and 3 measures by Christmas – were losing out because “there are only a limited number of settings where you can bear down on transmission” if schools and workplaces were to remain open.
Details of the extra support are expected to be announced this week, possibly before the crucial Parliamentary vote.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is understood to have signed up to the plan, which is likely to be funded by extra borrowing in the short term.
In his letter to the CRG, Mr Johnson also pledged new personalised risk assessments to help free vulnerable people from shielding, better communication on how to avoid transmitting the disease, more testing of asymptomatic carriers and regular updates on non-compliance.
At the weekend the Prime Minister had attempted to assuage Conservative rebels by pledging to review all the tiers on December 16 and offering a vote at the end of January on whether to end the tiers with a sunset clause to abolish them from February 3.
However, Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the CRG, said MPs could not back the plans until they had a comprehensive analysis of whether they were justified.
“We are still waiting for the analysis of the health, economic and social impact. That’s the key thing we have been asking for,” he said.
“The fundamental point is are these restrictions necessary and proportionate to the threat faced by the community as a whole.
“That is the fundamental question when you look at the pain of people losing their businesses, or the 20 and 30-year-olds facing isolation and missing out on the best years of their lives. We need to know if this is necessary and proportionate. It is not enough to say the NHS will struggle because the previous chart turned out not to be true.”
Another senior Conservative from the north of England said: “What they have to have in that assessment if it is to be credible is the number of lives that will be lost a result of lockdown, the mental health problems that will result from unemployment, the number of businesses that will be closed, the cost in GDP terms.
“If they do that, I think it is inevitable that they weaken their argument which is why they have resisted doing it so far.”
There is mounting anger in the hospitality industry at the new restrictions. Legal action is being considered over “flawed and discriminatory” closures of pubs and restaurants after it emerged Government scientists found that the virus does not spread in well ventilated spaces.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said the evidence showed the Government had treated pubs, restaurants and hotels inconsistently and needed to rethink its approach. “
Depending on the outcome of that, we will then consider our option in terms of the legal next steps,” Ms Nicholls told The Telegraph.