'Death by a thousand cuts' - Wakefield MP says new restrictions will 'cripple' city's economy as he joins major Tory backbench rebellion against 10pm curfew
Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan said he remained “to be convinced that the imposition of further measures in Wakefield at this time is the right thing to do” as MPs were asked to approve the new restrictions and three-tier system announced by Boris Johnson on Monday.
Along with the rest of West Yorkshire, as well as South Yorkshire, Wakefield will be placed under tier two - or high risk - measures from Wednesday, meaning households can no longer mix inside.
But speaking in the Commons on Tuesday evening, Mr Ahmad Khan said: “The measures before the House, which seek to arrest the spread of Covid-19, will cripple Wakefield’s economic recovery and sound the death knell for many businesses.
“There is no silver bullet, and without one, although it is difficult, we must learn to live with the virus. The continued peaks and troughs are unsustainable and offer false hope.”
Mr Ahmad Khan said the 10pm curfew on hospitality which would continue across the country was “at best grounded in questionable science”, and said Ossett brewery had told him the tier two restrictions would force them to close.
He added: “My inbox is swamped with people asking me—imploring me—to help the Government to realise that their businesses will be damned. I have not received one letter or email asking me to commend the Government on their proposals.”
The MP said if Health Secretary Matt Hancock could take Wakefield to tier one, the lowest level, he would vote with the Government but that: “Without such assurances, I fear these measures would, for Wakefield, be death by a thousand cuts.
“I could not look my constituents in the eye if I had voted for measures that broke them.”
Mr Ahmad Khan was one of three Yorkshire Conservative MPs to vote against the Government, joining Shipley MP Philip Davies and Haltemprice and Howden MP David Davis.
Along with 39 other colleagues they delivered Boris Johnson a major Tory backbench rebellion over the 10pm hospitality curfew, amid a growing backlash against Government coronavirus restrictions.
MPs approved the Government’s new three tier alert system for England without the need for a formal vote.
But a group of backbench Conservatives forced a division to register their disapproval over the curfew affecting pubs and restaurants in England.
The vote was symbolic as the new alert system supersedes the previous regulations, and includes the 10pm curfew as a minimum measure.
A further two Conservative MPs acted as tellers for the noes, bringing the total rebellion up to 44, while 298 Tories voted in favour.
A total of 23 Labour MPs also opposed the measure, including former leader Jeremy Corbyn and Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett.
Mr Hancock earlier conceded the curfew was a “matter of policy choice” in order to keep schools and workplaces open, rather than something driven by the science.
He claimed there is “direct and approximate evidence” for the positive impact of the limits on pubs and restaurants, citing a fall in alcohol-related A&E admissions late at night.
But Mr Hancock insisted the Government’s desire to protect education and work “as much as is possible” meant they had to take measures against socialising to try to slow the spread of Covid-19 transmission.
Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker said, in response to criticism that the curfew was causing overcrowding at 10pm, that putners had to take some responsibility.
The Conservative MP said: “I used to be a landlord many years ago, in the days when we kicked people out at 10 o’clock on a Sunday and 11 o’clock the rest of the week. Is the reality not that it is up to people to take responsibility for their own safety and that this is not just about a policy?”
He said rising rates had been caused by people not following the rules.
“As I said, I have a problem with state control over people’s lives, but—and there is a “but”—what we have seen locally during local restrictions is that, although the majority of people adhere to the law and guidance, which is worth repeating, sadly, a significant number do not,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the actions of a significant few are putting everybody else at risk, and the current spike is staggering. It is the result of a significant minority who are taking the liberty of living their daily lives as they choose, and they are putting everybody else at risk.
“These are some of the things that are happening locally, some of which are evident from our track and trace system: people not self-isolating when they are unwell; people not self-isolating when they return from holiday; and people not self-isolating when they have been in contact with someone else who has tested positive.
“It is not advised to mix households in pubs and restaurants; however, because that has been guidance only, our local pubs and restaurants have been full of mixed households seated together. That is not evidence from track and trace, but from the local MP, in the pub for most of the weekend. Finally, households are still mixing, despite it being law that they cannot.”
Mr Hancock also appeared to contradict the Prime Minister, who on Monday had said it was not possible to apply restrictions over a smaller geographical area than currently designated.
Asked by Thirsk and Malton’s Kevin Hollinrake whether restrictions could be looked at on a more granular level, rather than covering the whole of North Yorkshire, Mr Hancock said: “Yes, absolutely, and I will go further than that: we look at this at sub-district level, if that is appropriate.
“In High Peak we put four wards into level two and the rest of the wards stayed in level one.
“So we are prepared to look at the sub-district level if that is appropriate.
“Some districts within North Yorkshire have individual outbreaks in individual institutions that we are managing, and we should not mistake that for general community transmission and therefore put those areas into a higher level than is necessary.”