Boris Johnson promised £1,000 to pubs forced to remain closed under England’s new coronavirus restrictions as he sought to ward off a damaging Tory revolt over the plans.
The new arrangements will come into force on Wednesday, putting 99% of England in the toughest Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions, with the Commons almost certain to back the plans despite a Conservative rebellion.
But Mr Johnson’s announcement of a one-off payment for “wet” pubs which do not offer food was branded “derisory” by the trade at a time when landlords should be enjoying a festive boost to their takings.
Pubs in Tier 2 areas – covering 57% of England’s population – can only serve alcohol with a “substantial meal” and are also covered by rules restricting households mixing indoors, severely harming trade.
In Tier 3, pubs and restaurants can only offer takeaway and delivery services.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that the hospitality sector had borne a “disproportionate” burden in the effort to reduce coronavirus rates as he announced the one-off December payment.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said: “A one-off payment of £1,000 for pubs forced to close does not even count as a token gesture.”
“There’s no question people feel that they have been unfairly attracted, by proximity, into a higher tier than they deserve,” he said.
“People also feel that the tiering is not working for them.”
He indicated that the Government would look at a more focused approach when deciding arrangements in future – a key demand of Tories concerned that low infection rates in some areas were not being reflected in the restrictions being imposed.
“We will try to be as sensitive as possible to local efforts and to local achievements in bringing that pandemic under control,” he added.
The tiers will be reviewed every fortnight and Mr Johnson has also promised MPs a fresh vote on whether to keep the entire system beyond February 2.
The Government is expected to comfortably win Tuesday’s vote on the new rules after Labour said it would abstain.
But a rebellion on his own benches would be embarrassing for the Prime Minister, particularly if the numbers could have been enough to wipe out his majority.
That feeling was further compounded after a report in the Times suggested there is a Whitehall dashboard showing Covid-19’s impact on almost 40 sectors of the economy, with a red rating – indicating significant job cuts and revenue losses – against dozens of them, including aerospace, the automotive industry, retail, hospitality and tourism, arts and sport.
The anger on the Tory benches was set out by prominent backbenchers.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential backbench 1922 Committee of Tories and an MP in Tier 3 Greater Manchester, said: “If Government is to take away fundamental liberties of the people whom we represent, they must demonstrate beyond question that they’re acting in a way that is both proportionate and absolutely necessary.
“Today, I believe the Government has failed to make that compelling case.”
Former Cabinet minister Damian Green, an MP in Tier 3 Kent, said the plans lacked public support, adding: “I’ve had the most angry emails over a weekend since the Dominic Cummings trip to Barnard Castle.”
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said a “policy of maximum protection for minimum damage” was needed and “this policy is not it”.
Tory-led Stratford-on-Avon district council announced it was launching a legal challenge to the decision to place it in Tier 3.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister’s strategy posed a “significant” health risk and it was “highly unlikely” to see restrictions eased in parts of the country before Christmas.
He accused Mr Johnson of “over-promising and under-delivering” by pursuing an approach of short-term decisions that then “bump into the harsh reality of the virus”.
In other developments:
– Cabinet minister Michael Gove said a Scotch egg would count as a “substantial meal” in Tier 2, having previously suggested it was only a starter.
– Businessman Simon Dolan lost a Court of Appeal challenge against the Government over the Covid-19 lockdown rules.
– A total of 2,697 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending November 20 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), but there were signs the increase was slowing.