Tory MPs accuse PM of following ‘dates, not data’ on lockdown easing

Ben Wallace today dismissed growing calls from Tory MPs to speed up the nation’s exit from lockdown as he said it would be wrong to ‘throw away’ progress in ‘the final mile’. 

The Defence Secretary said the country has ‘made incredible sacrifices over the last year’ and now is the time to ‘buckle down’. 

The Government is facing a Conservative backbench revolt over Boris Johnson’s roadmap, with angry MPs arguing the approach is based on ‘dates, not data’.  

Tory rebels have pointed to the fact that more than 26million people in the UK have now received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine as they said life should be able to ‘get back to normal more quickly’. 

They said there is now ‘increasingly positive data on deaths and hospital admissions’ but despite this the Government ‘appears almost entirely focused on dates’ already set out by the Prime Minister.

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said ‘reasonable people’ will now be questioning why Mr Johnson does not speed up the easing of restrictions.      

Meanwhile, the CRG’s Steve Baker echoed a similar sentiment as he said ‘the time has come for this dark chapter in our history to come to an end’ amid a row over extending the Government’s draconian Covid powers.  

Ben Wallace today dismissed growing calls from Tory MPs to speed up the nation\'s exit from lockdown as he said it would be wrong to \'throw away\' progress in \'the final mile\'

Ben Wallace today dismissed growing calls from Tory MPs to speed up the nation\'s exit from lockdown as he said it would be wrong to \'throw away\' progress in \'the final mile\'

Ben Wallace today dismissed growing calls from Tory MPs to speed up the nation’s exit from lockdown as he said it would be wrong to ‘throw away’ progress in ‘the final mile’

Boris Johnson is under growing pressure from Tory MPs to speed up the nation\'s exit from lockdown

Boris Johnson is under growing pressure from Tory MPs to speed up the nation\'s exit from lockdown

Boris Johnson is under growing pressure from Tory MPs to speed up the nation’s exit from lockdown

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said \'reasonable people\' will now be questioning why Mr Johnson does not speed up the easing of restrictions

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said \'reasonable people\' will now be questioning why Mr Johnson does not speed up the easing of restrictions

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said ‘reasonable people’ will now be questioning why Mr Johnson does not speed up the easing of restrictions

MPs are expected to vote on the PM’s roadmap later this week and they are also likely to be asked to vote on keeping in place the controversial Coronavirus Act. 

The Act underpins Covid rules and MPs are fearful the Government will ask to keep powers until October, despite the fact the last step for unlocking in the PM’s exit strategy is set for June 21.

The lengthy extension has sparked fears of a possible reimposition of rules in the Autumn. 

Mr Wallace today dismissed calls to speed up the easing of restrictions as he said the Government does not want to put at risk the progress that has been made. 

He told Sophy Ridge on Sky News: ‘We have, all of us, whether you are NHS workers or members of the public made incredible sacrifices over the last year to make sure that we try and get on top of this pandemic.

‘We are in a place at the moment where, unlike many other countries, we have started to get on top of it, slowed the flow into hospitals, started to reduce the tragic loss of life and started to rollout the vaccine at an unprecedented level.

‘I don’t think now is the time to throw that away, or potentially put that at risk.

‘I think now is the time, the final mile is the most important thing for us all to make sure we buckle down, get through the different stages the Prime Minister set out, the next one being the 29th of March and then another one on the 12th of April and slowly but surely all of us together make sure we tackle this dreadful pandemic.’ 

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Harper said: ‘As Easter approaches, families would normally be making plans to visit and stay, and people could be forgiven for thinking that getting together would be possible to do safely. 

‘However, the Government’s roadmap – which appears almost entirely focused on dates rather than the increasingly positive data on deaths and hospital admissions – means that such activity will involve breaking the law.

‘Reasonable people will wonder whether the Government has got this balance right. Staying with your family won’t just be illegal for Easter weekend, it will be unlawful until May 17 at the earliest – whatever the data say. The roadmap is “dates, not data”.’

Mr Harper, a former chief whip, also warned that keeping the provisions in the Coronavirus Act until October ‘will raise concerns that curbs will be reintroduced in the Autumn.’

He added: ‘When this first started, protecting the NHS and saving lives was achieved by people staying at home. 

‘It’s now achieved by getting vaccinated and we have seen dramatic falls in deaths and hospital admissions. We should be able to get back to normal more quickly if we are following the data, not dates.’

Meanwhile, lockdown critic Sir Desmond Swayne told the Observer: ‘The whole point of having a successful vaccine campaign is that we want to take advantage of it. 

‘We mustn’t forget the huge economic costs involved with continuing with lockdown a day longer. I do feel that we’ve got an excess of caution and not enough sense of urgency about the damage.’ 

Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, added: ‘People are exhausted, they’re tired. They’re still frightened. The last thing we want to do is just ramp up that anxiety. We should be de-escalating it.’  

Many Tory MPs are increasingly concerned at the toll the continued national lockdown is taking.   

The Sunday Express reported that a group of five Cabinet members – Chancellor Rishi Sunak, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick – are the leading voices opposing any further delay in the lifting of restrictions.

Mr Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, questioned why tight restrictions are still in place. 

‘With so many vulnerable people now vaccinated, people may ask why restrictions the Government is bringing in this coming week are tougher than they were last summer when we didn’t have a vaccine,’ he told the newspaper.

‘The detention powers in the Coronavirus Act are disproportionate, extreme and wholly unnecessary. Renewing them would not be reconcilable with the Prime Minister’s guarantee that we are on a ‘one-way road to freedom’ by June 21.’

He added: ‘The time has come for this dark chapter in our history to come to an end and for us to reclaim our freedoms once and for all.’

Mr Baker told Sky News this morning he is currently unsure how big the Tory rebellion will be when the votes take place. 

Steve Baker told Sky News he is unsure how many Tory MPs will vote against the extension of the laws but said the Government will win because of support from opposition parties

Steve Baker told Sky News he is unsure how many Tory MPs will vote against the extension of the laws but said the Government will win because of support from opposition parties

Steve Baker told Sky News he is unsure how many Tory MPs will vote against the extension of the laws but said the Government will win because of support from opposition parties

But he said that thanks to the support of opposition parties the Government’s plans will not be stopped. 

He said: ‘It is very difficult to say until we have seen the exact detail of what the Government is tabling and how the votes will come.

‘But let’s be absolutely clear because it seems that Labour and the SNP will vote for any old authoritarianism these days it looks like the Government will of course get their business with an enormous majority.

‘But I do think it is important that some of us do seek to hold the Government to account with these extraordinary powers.’ 

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