As published by The i:
A cross-party coalition is preparing to oppose local lockdowns being imposed across England next month to combat the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus.
A Cabinet minister confirmed on Tuesday that local lockdowns was “an option” being considered by the Government in response to fears that surging numbers of the highly infectious new strain could derail plans to end all Covid restrictions on 21 June.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is understood to support the move only if mass vaccination and surge-testing fails to reduce cases numbers in the worst-affected areas which currently include Bolton, Blackburn, Bedford and parts of London.
However, any attempt to return to the localised lockdowns similar to last year’s tier system will run into huge opposition from MPs furious over the detrimental economic effect both in their constituencies and on the UK economy.
The Labour Party has also signalled its opposition to the move and predicted the Government could be “in trouble” in any Commons vote required to implement local restrictions.
David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, told i: “The first thing to remember from what we’ve learned from other lockdowns is that they have a very limited effectiveness.
“A large amount of transmission is within the home. So a lockdown doesn’t necessarily help, unless you are literally shutting down the whole economy, and even then you can’t ever really stop people travelling out of the area.”
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, said “there is no evidence” the local lockdowns imposed for much of the past 15 months in the North West of England had succeeded.
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, which includes Bolton, said his “heart sank” when the suggestion of new local lockdowns was raised.
Kate Hollern, the Labour MP for Blackburn, said: “Lockdown isn’t inevitable and if Blackburn is forced to shut up shop many local businesses will not survive. A fourth lockdown would be devastating.”
Mr Johnson sidestepped questions about the chances of local lockdowns, telling reporters on Tuesday: “We will be letting people know as much as we can, as soon as we can. But at the moment we don’t see anything conclusive that makes us think we have to deviate from the road map.”
However, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, confirmed the plan was on the table when he was asked if ministers were actively looking at fully opening on 21 June while imposing local restrictions.
He said: “That would be an option and we cannot rule anything out. Our preferred outcome is that we really double down and get the vaccination rates up in those areas that are seeing these problems so we can give them the immunity they need – and then we won’t have to have any such local lockdowns.”