Coronavirus: Johnson expected to order pubs to shut in north of England

Boris Johnson is expected to order tough new COVID curbs next week on pubs in northern England, which could include closing them altogether in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.

In an announcement that could come before the end of this week, the prime minister is expected to unveil a clampdown in response to alarming rises in coronavirus cases in the worst hit areas.

At the same time, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak is finalising a new package of coronavirus support for the stricken hospitality industry, in response to demands from MPs and local government leaders.

Mr Sunak is expected to target support on those businesses such as pubs which are forced to close, or face new rules restricting their opening hours.

But despite the Chancellor promising a new version of the furlough scheme, with more generous handouts than before, the new lockdown measures are likely to be greeted by a furious backlash by many Conservative MPs.

Leading Tory backbenchers have already served notice that they intend to rebel in a Commons vote on the 10pm curfew next week, a threat made more potent by Sir Keir Starmer signalling that Labour MPs will also oppose it.

One close ally of the prime minister, former Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry, said the new measures would be “economic suicide” and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said they would “cripple the economy”.

The UK government crackdown follows measures announced by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, including pub closures and limits on opening hours, and a £40 million handout to businesses affected.

Revealing the government’s thinking, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Outside your household and socialising between households, the highest place in incidence of likely transmission, measured by where people have contacts, is unfortunately hospitality.

“Now obviously that finding is not good news in terms of the policy action we have to take for that sector.”

And in a Daily Express interview, Mr Hancock said: “We must not let up. Since the beginning of this global pandemic this government ‘s top priority has been to do everything we can to support the NHS and save lives.

“I’m acutely aware that the measures we have announced are very tough and many people have made major sacrifices this year. But we need to stick at it.”

The new clampdown comes after the latest figures revealed that 14,162 people were newly diagnosed with the virus on Wednesday.

The new rules being announced by the PM are expected to divide England into three tiers of risk and rising infections, with large parts of northern England in the highest tier, with pubs, restaurants and cafes closing.

Areas in the middle tier are thought likely to face a simplified version of current restrictions and the lowest tier likely to see current social distancing measures and the rule of six enforced.

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But during a Commons debate on the more recent lockdown measures in northern England, Conservative MPs voiced their anger at the curbs already introduced by the government and those now planned.

Leading the onslaught, Mr Berry said: “I think the Government has fallen into that fatal trap of making national decisions based on a London-centric view with London data.

“We want to remove the manacles of state control from our hands and from our feet, but we can do that only when we’ve beaten this virus.”

Mr Berry later told The Sun: “The Scottish proposals on effectively banning alcohol consumption represent a new low in COVID restrictions. It would be an act of economic suicide for England to follow this path.”

Also speaking to the Sun, Mr Duncan Smith warned Mr Johnson there would be a major Tory rebellion if he copied Ms Sturgeon’s “draconian lockdown”.

He said: “There is no evidence that this works, absolutely none whatsoever.

“What there is evidence for is that this will cripple the economy and lead to more deaths, as has already been demonstrated from non-COVID issues. It’s time to get some balance and save our economy.”

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