LONDON (Reuters) – Conservative lawmakers have set up a new group to fight what they call a cycle of lockdowns to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, yet another sign of discontent in British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s governing party.
While most Conservatives backed the government last week in supporting a second lockdown in England to try to bring down rising cases of COVID-19, more than 30 of the party’s lawmakers broke ranks, seeing the measures as draconian.
The new internal group, called the Covid Recovery Group, is the latest to be formed by Conservative lawmakers, part of wider efforts to try to put pressure on a government which many feel is not listening to the party’s concerns.
“Last week I voted against a Conservative government for only the second time in my fifteen years in parliament,” Mark Harper, chairman of the new group, said in a statement.
“Lockdowns cost lives … The cure we’re prescribing runs the risk of being worse than the disease.”
Steve Baker, a Brexit-supporting lawmaker who is deputy chairman, said he wanted to find “a more sustainable way of leading our lives until a vaccine is rolled out”.
They said the group would help the government to find an enduring strategy for living with the virus.
But its demands – for publication of a cost-benefit analysis of COVID-19 measures, an end to a “monopoly” of government scientists over advice, improvements to testing and tracing and a more localised approach – show it wants to steer the response.
After winning a large majority at a national election last year, Johnson and his Downing Street office have increasingly become a target for Conservative discontent over everything from U-turns in policy to a growing belief they are too distant.
Many lawmakers fear repeated lockdowns will not only further hurt an already struggling economy but also harm mental health and lead to additional deaths because people are not getting diagnosed with other diseases or missing hospital appointments.
Johnson won last week’s vote easily, and has promised the latest lockdown will end on Dec. 2 when parliament will vote on the next steps in battling coronavirus in Britain, which has the highest death toll in Europe with more than 61,000 deaths linked to COVID-19.
But the prime minister could face a wider rebellion in parliament if coronavirus rates fail to fall and he believes more or continued restrictions are necessary.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Michael Holden and Philippa Fletcher)