Furious Tory MPs led the resistance against Tier 3 lockdown measures for Greater Manchester on an explosive call with health minister Helen Whately on Friday morning.
In an orchestrated move with Labour, the region’s Conservatives lined up one by one to tell the government why their proposal for stricter Covid-19 measures would hurt the economy and should not go ahead.
After separate meetings between No 10 and Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons the region would stay in Tier 2, for now.
Former Labour front-bencher Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish, said: “We thought the Tories should come in first. That was a tactic so the minister could see this wasn’t just Labour MPs kicking off.
“But it’s a game of poker now and who blinks first. Will the government just lose their temper and impose Tier 3 and get all the blame for whatever happens? Or will they come up with more money from the Treasury? You can either do this against our will, and how bad will that look, or will the Treasury move slightly.”
William Wragg, Tory member for Hazel Grove, south Manchester, told the Commons “the impossible has been achieved” with all the region’s MPs, council leaders and the mayor in agreement in opposing a Tier 3 lockdown.
He said: “The meeting we had earlier today was entirely pointless. We may as well have talked to a wall quite frankly.
“The closure of hospitality will drive people into private dwellings where they will mix, we do not, thank goodness, live in a police state for that is the only way to police it. Can they please listen to common sense and think again?”
As tempers frayed, Whately ended the call by saying there were clearly “lots of different opinions” on the issue.
Angry MPs then unmuted themselves, interrupting her to say they were all agreed and against Tier 3 restrictions.
Gwynne said: “We all said don’t you dare misrepresent the meeting. We are all speaking with one voice. Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) said ‘we’re a city united’. She couldn’t get off the call fast enough.”
Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton, said: “It was not a good meeting. We were saying hang on, we are all united here, what are you talking about saying there’s different views?”
Burnham, and other local authority leaders, who had been on a separate call, told the prime minister’s adviser that they opposed going into Tier 3 – closure of pubs, bars, restaurants, gyms and betting shops – unless there was a significant financial package.
Liverpool City Region is the only part of the country that has agreed to go into Tier 3. Today regional mayor Steve Rotheram said they were putting together a £40 million fund to protect jobs in the hospitality sector.
Despite agreeing to Tier 3, Rotheram is now asking for an increase in its wage support scheme to cover 80 per cent of someone’s usual earnings – not the reduced level of 66 per cent.
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