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Mr Gove is seeking to head off an escalating backbench rebellion, with Sir Graham, chairman of the 1922 Committee, vowing to vote against the introduction of a new localised tier system once the lockdown comes to an end on December 2, claiming it represented an unreasonable infringement on civil liberties. Writing in The Times, Mr Gove said the decision to impose the lockdown in November had presented Boris Johnson and his cabinet with a “Devil’s dilemma”.
We had to act because if we did not our health service would have been overwhelmed
However, he said the Government had chosen to take drastic action, just as Emmanuel Macron in France, Micheál Martin in Ireland, Mark Rutte in the Netherlands and Angela Merkel in Germany had done.
He explained: “We had to act, as they did, because if we did not our health service would have been overwhelmed.”
Mr Gove likened the pre-lockdown situation to “a tap filling a bath faster and faster with every day that passed”.
He said: “Lockdown first slowed the pace at which the bath was filling up, then stabilised it. Slowly, it has begun to lower the water level.
“But as we exit this lockdown the level is still high and it would not take too much, or too rapid an increase, for us to risk it overtopping again.”
As a result, the Government had opted to set out “new, stronger tiers”, Mr Gove said.
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He added: “Bluntly, our previous tiers were not as effective as we had hoped. In general, infections continued to rise in Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas and even the bare, basic, old Tier 3 wasn’t enough.
“These are, of course, uncomfortable truths. Not least for those of us who argued that these measures, on their own, would be enough. But we cannot ignore the evidence.”
In a pointed message likely to be aimed at would-be Tory rebels, he warned: “When the country is facing such a national crisis, the truth is that all of us who have been elected to parliament, not just ministers, must take responsibility for difficult decisions.
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“COVID-19 is no respecter of constituency boundaries and the hardships we are facing now are unfortunately necessary to protect every single one of us, no matter where we live.
“In any analysis of this government’s, or any government’s approach, the cost of lockdown and restrictions cannot be reckoned against the status quo ante, but only against the cost of inaction, or inadequate action, and the overwhelming of the NHS.”
Mr Gove’s arguments are unlikely to cut much ice with Sir Graham, who outlined his concerns in an op-ed published in today’s Daily Mail.
In it, he wrote: “In practice, the new regime is just as heavy-handed as lockdown, leaving 99 percent of the population under arbitrary state control.
“Riddled with contradictions and unsupported by compelling scientific evidence, these restrictions will cause immense further damage to the economy, cripple our civil liberties and worsen the nation’s health.
“In short, they threaten to destroy the social fabric that makes up Great Britain.
“That is why I shall be voting against their implementation when Parliament decides on the issue on Tuesday.”
Given Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, a rebellion of more than 40 Tory MPs would leave the Prime Minister reliant on Labour to approve the new system.
Tory MP Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the recently formed Covid Recovery Group, is among those who has indicated he is likely to follow Sir Graham’s lead in voting against the new system.
Speaking to Express.co.uk in May, he said: “On the economy, I am gravely concerned.”
He explained was already witnessing the fallout in terms of self-employed people, as well as those working in the hospitality sector, creative professionals, and the mental health impact.
He added: “Every day the economic and clinical reasons for relaxing the lockdown become more evident.”
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