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Conservative MPs on when lockdown should end. “We should start on March 8.”


  • Until roughly the end of last month, there seemed to be an expectation that the vaccines were here; Covid-19 would be put in its place, and that the country would be back to near the old normal by next autumn.
  • Since then, there has been debate among Ministers and their scientific advisers about how effective some vaccines will be; whether or not lockdown will continue beyond Easter, to some degree at least, and whether we will get back in the medium term to anything like the old normal at all.
  • Boris Johnson has indicated that the conclusions of a review will be published during the week beginning on Monday February 22, and that schools may re-open on Monday March 8.  The Covid Recovery Group wants a “draft plan for the progressive lifting of restrictions” to be implemented from that last date.
  • So we have asked a sample of Conservative MPs what they think.  See below.  Admittedly, trying to pick out a common theme in these exercises can be a bit like trying to make out a tune when the pianist is drunk, the piano broken, and a brass band tootling away in the background.
  • Nonetheless, our take is that the majority of those we spoke to want something done from March 8.  We suspect that the Prime Minister’s instinct will be try to keep everyone on side, and begin a return of at least schools from that date: but “the science”, i.e: the SAGE scientists, may help to force a delay.
  • As with previous similar exercises, we have compromised between complete anonymity and giving readers the very roughest of guides – northern seat, midlands seat, southern seat.  This is sufficiently broad both to protect identities while giving readers a feel for what’s happening out there.
  • Our sample may be unrepresentative; it is certainly a bit south-heavy.  Then again, for all that talk of the Red Wall, the Conservatives are still better represented in the south of England than elsewhere in the country

MP with a Northern constituency

“My constituents’ mood is arguably more optimistic now than it was in say November or January because of the successful roll out of the vaccine, so at least now we do have that light at the end of the tunnel – the question is how long is that tunnel now…but while there’s a lot of optimism, I think patience is starting to run out. I would hope that when schools go back we can at least start the process then (for reopening businesses like hairdressers, non-essential retail). It may be a bit longer for hospitality and I hope it’s not too long but I think that March 8th – the time that’s been bandied around for schools – is when we need to start that process and make it meaningful…  If we are going to open hospitality, it needs to be done properly – so no curfew; table service I’d probably begrudgingly accept as an interim measure. No curfew, none of this scotch egg/ substantial meal policy and not being able to socialise.”

MP with a Midlands constituency

“My Association Chairmen wrote me a message the other day which I believe chimes with local views: that we really do need to start unlocking once the over-50s are vaccinated and safe. There is a lot of pent-up frustration, and it is no good for mental health. My constituents are very sympathetic to the Government, especially after the vaccination triumph, but their patience is only so elastic. The challenge is that everyone has their own priorities for what should open first. I want swimming pools, many others want gyms or schools. The Government needs to set out a sensible timetable for re-opening the economy that will give people some much-needed hope that all this collective suffering has paid off. So long as the R-rate keeps falling, we should start on March 8 and aim to be back to near-normal by late spring or early summer.”

MP with a Southern constituency

“It’s very mixed. The vaccine has calmed the mood. People are optimistic. But they could turn angry if something goes wrong. There’s been some rowing back. The message has changed from ‘The vaccine’s here. Happy days. back to normal by Easter.’ It’s a bit more confusing. A bit more hesitant. So it might take a bit longer than hoped. Perhaps April or May instead of March. There should absolutely be a start to ending lockdown by March 8. The vaccines are working and are on schedule. With the four most vulnerable groups being vaccinated by Monday and the over 50s then rapidly being done, there is no justification for delay. Any continuing restrictions on business should be guidance rather than law. We also need much more rigour in checking the evidence of what works. ”

MP with a Northern constituency

“Patience is already beginning to wear thin and I’m asked daily now “when are we going to relieve these measures?” We’ve now got pretty much all of our super-vulnerable vaccinated – when they get their second vaccine, they’ll be inoculated. Very few are now going to die or even be hospitalised, so let’s get back to normal – and still ramp up the vaccine programme, which everybody is very, very happy about.  The restrictions should end March 1st in my book – but at the very latest March 8th. The reason they should end then is because two weeks after February 15th is March 1st and two weeks after that all of our top four cohorts have been immunised. They occupy about 89.7 per cent of those most likely/ most vulnerable to get seriously ill or die. So we’ve protected them. We should have lockdown eased by that point; I’m not saying “end”, but eased to something that’s similar to what we enjoyed in the months before September, in July and August.

MP with a Midlands constituency

“The mood of my constituents is hard to tell. I do get some furious emails from people impatient about not being able to see elderly relatives who have already had the vaccine weeks ago.  I expect the March 8th schools deadline will slip a bit. A couple of weeks. I’m not necessarily in favour of a start to opening-up by that date. I’m most concerned to avoid a fourth lockdown. Matt Hancock tells us we still need more data about new strains. We need to be really confident about the vaccines being able to stop hospitalisations. Some people say we must open up for Easter. That Easter is an important time for hospitality. But whenever it opens up people are going to spend a lot of money going out to restaurants – even if it is a couple of weeks later.”

MP with a Southern constituency

“My constituents are very polarised.  It’s like Leave and Remain – and I sense that the frustration will increase quite quickly. But I expect that the lockdown will begin to be phased out from March 8th. I expect we will have the road map on February 22nd as promised. Rishi Sunak is the knight in shining armour. He will push to get things opened up.  And, yes, it should be all schools by March 8.  Once those at
significant risk of death of or needing to go to hospital have been vaccinated and the vaccine given time to work, there is no justification for any further restrictions. The rest of us might be ill from it but then we might get flu or all sorts of other things. The idea of waiting until Covid is eliminated is complete fantasy.”

MP with a Northern constituency

“We polled constituents recently and found five per cent want easing, 45 per cent back the Government – and 45 per cent want an even tougher policy.  Now obviously those are people who are prepared to fill in a Conservative survey, and my members are more a third, a third, a third.  But the point is that there’s more support than might be imagined for lockdown.  For myself, I’m slightly more on the opening-up side of the debate.  There’s a question of government leadership.  As for March 8, we could have a general timetable for opening-up – step by step rather than dates.  I do worry that the goalposts will move.  It should be possible to combine being looser about opening up here with being tougher about hotel quarantine – and closing the borders.”

MP with a Midlands constituency

“We don’t yet know how effective the vaccines will be in practice, and we don’t know either how swift the fall in hospitalisations will be, assuming it continues.  We’ll have a better idea once 15 weeks has passed from the first jab, which most people in the target group have now received, but 15 weeks from now takes us into early May.  So I’m very doubtful that all schools will be open by March 8.  I suspect that primaries will go first followed by exam year pupils in secondary schools.  All in all, I could live with a major set of restrictions until the start of June – but I would find it difficult to support a policy that doesn’t deliver relaxation by the middle of July, when the balance of risk should be low as far as most of the population is concerned.”

MP with a Southern constituency

“I would make a distinction between the public and Conservative Party members. I have had quite a few emails from libertarians in my
Association opposing the lockdown. There have also been some with particular business interests – for instance the travel industry, the
hospitality industry – who have quite reasonably raised objections. But my guess is that those who don’t send me emails – Richard Nixon’s
silent majority – accept the restrictions are justified. I’ve no idea when the shutdown will end – all my previous predictions have all been wrong.  But we really should be able to make a start by March 8th. It can be just some schools. Just some shops. But we do need to make that start.”

MP with a Northern constituency

“Given the lockdown, my face-to-face interaction with constituents is almost non-existent, so it’s hard to give an answer about the mood.  Most of my members are retired, so the restrictions are less burdensome for them.  Overall, I think one must take into account that first, there are at least half a dozen vaccines out there, and that some will be more effective than others.  Second, that there’s a growing suite of treatments.  And, third, that the NHS is getting back at dealing with patients.  So at the moment one would expect the peak from deaths to be April, and hope to be out of lockdown fully by May.  You could probably set a timetable with dates, though some protection will probably be needed next winter: masks on public transport, hand-washing, quarantine from foreign sources.”

MP with a Midlands constituency

“There have been a steady series of rebellions to date and there will be more to come – on housing, China, universal credit, free school meals and in due course overseas aid.  Nonetheless the rebels’ guns haven’t swivelled on the Government yet, although there’s always the danger for Ministers of a critical mass.  And I’m assuming a May vaccination local elections bounce.  I don’t tend to vote with the rebels and am slightly on the fence about March 8, but I think it needs to be shown that there is a roadmap out of lockdown, and that date seems as good as any to start. Certainly, the Government needs to provide a sense of hope that there is a way out of this, and that it will come sooner rather than later.”

MP with a Southern constituency

“We have done a really good job of scaring people to death – so most will probably be nervous about lifting restrictions. But the people in
business are giving me a different message. The taxi drivers, the small shops. We are a working city. All these small businesses are
really worried about any more delay.  As for when lockdown will end, Boris is in retreat, isn’t he? The professionals will always say we
should be cautious. We need more data. I think Boris will be vulnerable to calls for delay. So it will be phased in months when it
should be phased in weeks.  I would like to see us start on opening up before March 8.  Nicola Sturgeon is opening
the schools in Scotland before then. I agree with Nicola!”

MP with a Northern constituency

“My own instinct is to rush for the exit, but I get a widespread sense of that – though my experience in my seat is that those who are hacked off are disproportionately likely to be strong Conservative voters.  I think the Government will struggle to keep a lid on this until after Easter.  Though I don’t like putting dates, like March 8, on these things: you do so and then the bloody data shifts, and then you have to do a U-turn very publicly.  No-one wants to see us open up again and then have to close because of a fourth lockdown – that would obviously be very unpopular both with my colleagues and with voters.  But if the trend continues, I would like to see schools re-open on that date, and for opening-up to move at a reasonable pace.

MP with a Southern constituency

“I would say that the mood of my constituents is one of acceptance. Much more so than before. There is considerable cultural caution.  I think SAGE will probably want a delay and will get their way. So there will be some slippage from March 8th. I expect that the routemap will give dates for restrictions being eased in a phased way but it will be conditional. So provided the number of cases fall by x then y will
happen on a particular date. Yes, a timetable should be set for opening up from March 8. But in the cautious way that I spoke about. In the autumn I was keen to lift all restrictions. I was wrong. It was a terrible mistake to have lifted as much as we did, it cost thousands of lives including people I know. So you will appreciate that I don’t want that to happen again.”

MP with a Southern constituency

“My constituents are split down the middle: parents are desperate to get their children back to school, but many older residents – even if they’ve been vaccinated – are still worried about new infections. There are fewer complaints from businesses from before, but that is partly because those that were going to fold have gone under even as others have adapted. We won’t be returning to normal until summer, at the earliest. Advocates of a longer, harder lockdown are winning the battle inside the Government because it is widely recognised that we eased restrictions too early last time – 1,500 deaths a day is intolerable. However, I don’t support the idea that we should lock down until the virus is eradicated. We need to get it down to manageable levels and then treat it in the background, like flu. I think that March 8 is a sensible date to start a careful, and very gradual, unlocking.”

MP with a Southern constituecy

“Views in my area are mixed. People are very law-abiding and good at following the rules, and infection rates are very low. But there is frustration that communities like ours are locked into a national approach. What is the point of keeping our Covid levels so low if it doesn’t allow local schools and businesses to re-open? The Transport Secretary also caused huge upset to the hospitality sector with his remarks about holidays. I think we need to start easing restrictions in some parts of the country on February 22 – things like schools, as well as activities which don’t contribute to transmission such as outdoor exercise. We need to give people hope.”

MP with a Southern constituency

“I survey my constituents regularly and there is still broad support for lockdown, I’m not getting many emails about re-opening pubs and restaurants. But I do think that the restrictions are taking an increasing toll on people’s mental health, and the Government needs to take that into account when deciding when to unlock. Whilst I don’t expect us to be back to ‘normal’ until the summer, the Prime Minister should start easing restrictions on things like meeting outdoors on March 8. What has changed since the earlier lockdowns is the attitude of parents. We know much more about how badly school closures are impacting on children, and there is a strong sense that we need them to reopen as soon as the vulnerable are protected. Personally, I’m not convinced that this needs to be ‘phased’ – we need education back on track as soon as possible.”

MP with a Southern constituency

“People are finding this lockdown much harder than the others. People are struggling with their mental health and businesses are finding it very difficult. But paradoxically, there is still a lot of caution about opening up. What my constituents need is hope: the Government has to stop messing people around with different possible dates and make sure there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t expect we’ll be able to be in crowded indoor spaces again until 2022, so talk of a ‘normal summer’ is a bit relative. But a sensible measure would be to allow every household, and not just the vulnerable, to have one social bubble so they can safely and legally see family or friends. The top priority has to be schools. I’d open them tomorrow, but March 8 is better than nothing. France has managed to get them open, and our young people don’t deserve to have their education disrupted any further.”





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