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The Government believes it has “reached the limit” with lockdowns and “will need to ease restrictions over Christmas”, senior sources say.
They suggest discussions in Boris Johnson’s top team have concluded “there cannot be another lockdown” and while “more areas will go into Tier 3 [restrictions]” in the short term, the Government must start easing them.
An insider said: “It is going to be very hard to expect people not to see their relatives at Christmas. There is a real risk people will not follow the rules.”
The private admission comes as 80 Conservative MPs representing seats across the north of England are preparing to write to the Prime Minister demanding “a clear road map out of Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions”.
With patience wearing thin over hospitality businesses being driven to the brink, the Northern Research Group, led by former Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry, wants the Government to explain how it intends to lift restrictions and in what circumstances.
It follows similar pressure from Esther McVey’s Blue Collar Conservatism group, which represents MPs in the former Labour “Red Wall” seats in the North and Midlands.
The Northern Research Group also wants a recovery plan for the region to help tackle the problems caused by coronavirus and an infrastructure strategy to deliver the levelling-up agenda promised in the general election.
Mr Berry said Mr Johnson’s “compelling vision” for levelling up was at the heart of the “largest group of Conservative MPs in the North for a century” in December.
He said the letter to the Prime Minister was about how “the Conservatives can permanently replace Labour as the party of the North”. Meanwhile, a petition in Wales has already gained thousands of signatures demanding an end to First Minister Mark Drakeford’s “cruel” decision to ban supermarkets selling non-essential items during the region’s 17-day “firebreak” lockdown.
The Labour First Minister has come under fierce criticism after slapping a ban on items including clothes, books, kettles, cleaning equipment and birthday cards, but not alcohol. The petition had received more than 17,000 signatures by yesterday afternoon. It stated: “We do not agree that this is a prudent or rational measure, and will create more harm than good. We do not agree for example that parents should be barred from buying clothes for their children during lockdown while out shopping.”
And last night Mr Drakeford admitted people are “fed up” with the firebreak lockdown and said the Welsh Government will review “how the weekend has gone” with supermarkets and make sure that “common sense is applied” to the ban on selling non-essential items. Mr Drakeford tweeted: “Thank you for all your efforts over the last 24 hours to stay at home. We know people are fed up.
“Please only leave home if you need to.”
Mr Drakeford, a former ally of ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, had insisted that stopping supermarkets from selling non-essential items was “a straightforward matter of fairness” because hundreds of high street businesses had been forced to close.
But the Welsh Conservatives’ shadow health minister Andrew RT Davies called for the ban to be “dropped immediately”.
He said: “I have never witnessed such a fierce backlash against a decision from the Welsh Labour Government.
“This ludicrous ban has caused real anger across Wales and it’s not fair on those staff working in our supermarkets and the general Welsh public who are already at their wits’ end with a difficult fortnight looming.”
Opposition leader Paul Davies has written to the presiding officer of theWelsh Parliament, calling for members to be recalled to discuss the ban. He said: “It is madness that people have been banned from buying books, bins and baby clothes in local shops.”
He added: “The Welsh Labourled Government may not think these items are essential, but many will beg to differ. The Wales-wide lockdown is disproportionate, unnecessary and biting our economy hard.
“I’d rather see people being able to buy items in shops in their communities that provide employment to local people than see millions spent at online internet giants.”
Mr Davies said the petition was a “clear sign” that people wanted the rule to be scrapped immediately and insisted the Welsh Parliament “must meet to resolve this matter as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile, there was continuing confusion in Scotland where its separatist First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has introduced a five-tier system to differentiate from the three in England.
It is due to come into force at the beginning of next month.
Ministers told the Sunday Express that the “chaos” in Wales had underlined why there would not be a circuit or firebreak in England. One senior figure said: “We are just going to let this one play out and let Labour get out of their own mess.”
The row over what to do during the Christmas period was underlined yesterday after controversial professor Neil Ferguson, whose estimate of 500,000 deaths brought about the first national lockdown, suggested that “loved ones will die” if families are allowed to mix during the festive season.
Prof Ferguson said it was a “political judgment” whether restrictions on households mixing should be relaxed over Christmas.
He told BBC’s Today programme: “It risks some transmission and there will be consequences of that. Some people will die because of getting infected on that day.”
Yesterday saw 23,012 new virus cases, up from 20,530 on Friday.
However reported deaths dropped from 224 on the previous day to 174. Lockdown breaches suggest people are now willing to take the risk to flout the rules.
The organiser of a party in Manchester on Friday, which was attended by more than 50 people, has been handed a £10,000 fine for a “blatant disregard” of Covid-19 regulations. A “lock-in” wedding last Sunday with an estimated 250 guests, unsuccessfully tried to hide the event by closing shutters at the front of the building, police said.
Officers are also considering a £10,000 fine for the organisers of the event in Old Kent Road, south-east London. Police yesterday broke up large numbers of anti-lockdown protesters at Trafalgar Square, following a march through central London. Demonstrators at the event called for an end to the “tyranny” of pandemic restrictions and voiced their opposition to vaccines.
At least two people were led away in handcuffs by police officers at Trafalgar Square.
Piers Corbyn, former Labour leader Jeremy’s brother, also attended the demonstration.
The Metropolitan Police said 18 people were arrested for assaults on officers, breaching coronavirus regulations and violent disorder – or were already wanted. Three officers suffered minor injuries.
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