Should London be in a lower tier?
Before the PM spoke on Nov 23, MPs in the London Conservative MPs’ WhatsApp group had been in agreement that the capital should be placed in the lowest tier.
London MPs are now pushing for the capital to be placed into Tier 1 because of the city’s economic significance but this risks angering Conservatives in “Red Wall” seats facing an “inevitable” return to Tier 2 and 3.
Felicity Buchan, the Tory MP for Kensington, told Matt Hancock in the Commons that "London is the engine of this country's economy and my central London constituency is suffering hard".
She added that as of November 20 "London has a substantially lower case rate than the English average, coming in at 75 points lower, and my constituency was 125 points lower".
The Health Secretary said the city would "come out at the tier that is necessary and appropriate based on the public health evidence".
Shaun Bailey, the Tory mayoral candidate, told a Zoom call of London businesses that it would be a “disaster” if London was placed into Tier 3, warning: “Many businesses will just collapse.”
Would all of London be in the same tier?
It is understood that the Government is unlikely to adopt a more localised approach because of the "interconnectedness" of the city.
Bob Blackman, the Tory MP for Harrow East, urged the Government to look at London on a "borough by borough basis and not as a whole", saying: "My concern is that the borough with the lowest infection rate will be lumped in with the one that has the highest. If we don't get London back on steam then the economy will continue to suffer."
The Prime Minister says: “Although it’s very diverse and massive it is held together by a very dense mass transit system.
“Although there are fewer people on it right now the transmission within London means that it's quite difficult to separate one bit of London from another.”
How are tiers determined?
Five categories will be used to determine which level a region falls into: the case numbers across all age groups, cases in those aged over 60, the infection rate, the percentage of those tested who have the virus and pressures on the NHS locally.
Whitehall sources have indicated that only very few, mostly rural areas will be put in Tier 1 - the only level where indoor socialising with other households is allowed.
Will this affect the North-South Divide?
Tories in northern constituencies are railing against being kept in the toughest tier.
Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley near Bradford, said on Nov 24: “Basically it’s pretty clear that every place in Tier 1 will be in the south of England only.
“There’s going to be this major North-South divide which will fly in the face of the Government’s levelling up agenda. Did they not foresee this was going to be a problem? I won’t be voting for all this rubbish.”
According to Chris Green, the MP for Bolton West, who voted against the second lockdown, “there were plenty of MPs who voted for it last time but said “never again”.
He said the rules discriminate against “gastropubs” which serve food and “traditional” pubs and would pit areas like Liverpool and Rotherham, where mass testing has taken place, against neighbouring areas in Greater Manchester, which is expected to go into Tier 3.
“It’s almost written into it that there’s going to be a massive north side divide. But there’s also going to be a divide between areas which have participated in mass screening which are going to get a pat on the head, and others which are going to remain in Tier 3 having already been in a form of lockdown for months.
“The mood among Conservatives is pretty sour. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a significant rebellion."
The battle for which tier London will enter has started rumours of Tory rebellion, after Boris Johnson announced that more than half the country will be put into tougher restrictions on December 2.
The Prime Minister confirmed on Nov 23 that the UK would move back into a tiered system from next month and acknowledged that the tiers were "designed to reduce and keep 'R' below one and therefore allow areas to move down the tiers".
Although tiers will not be announced until Thursday Nov 26, a number of MPs have urged the Government to put London in the lowest tier or risk economic havoc.
Conservative WhatsApp groups have been lighting up with “fury” and “anger” over the post-lockdown plan, according to one senior Tory who said: “There’s fury and anger at Boris Johnson on the backbenches about this. He doesn’t seem to care about the economic impact all of this is having. There’s going to be a major revolt.”
The former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it "must be put into Tier 1" once the lockdown ends, adding: "London is dominant in the economy and we need it to get back to work immediately."
Sir Iain said the decision on London "will test the Prime Minister's commitment today that some areas will be able to move to lower tiers. He should start with London".
“London is critical to the UK’s economy. Just the West End represents four per cent of GDP and it is completely dead.
“The cavalier way we are treating the capital city is astonishing.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for the capital to be placed in Tier 2, tweeting: "If Ministers put London in Tier 3, our city’s unique ecosystem of bars, restaurants, clubs and cultural venues would suffer immeasurable losses, and some may not survive."
MPs will be invited to vote on the new tier system next week, with swathes of the 70-strong Covid Research Group of lockdown sceptic Tories expected to rebel.
What tier is London likely to go into?
Whitehall sources told The Telegraph that London would be in Tier 2 after lockdown, despite signs that infection rates were starting to fall.
Government figures showed the seven-day rate had fallen to 197.2 per 100,000 residents, down from a record high of 198.9 on November 21.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said “London going into Tier 2 next week would seem the right and sensible decision”, adding closing “London’s unique ecosystem of bars, restaurants, clubs and cultural venues” throughout Christmas would be “a hammer blow”.
Mr Johnson conceded it was "likely that more of the country is placed into Tiers 2 and 3 at first" in order to "control the virus effectively".
He insisted the end of lockdown could not be "replaced with a free for all" and stressed that "tiers will remain tough".
One source said there was "not a chance" that London would enter Tier 3, in which the hospitality industry would stay completely closed with the exception of takeaway food and drink. "It would kill hospitality," the source said.