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London placed under tougher restrictions to fend off 'north versus south' row, MPs claim

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Boris Johnson has been accused of imposing tougher restrictions on London in order to fend off a “north versus south” row as Manchester appeared set to join Liverpool as a top tier lockdown area. 

The Prime Minister was on Thursday facing a major backlash from London Conservative MPs after ministers confirmed that the capital would be placed under tier two restrictions from Friday at midnight. 

Essex is also expected to follow shortly afterwards.

It means that more than nine million people will be banned from meeting friends and family outside of their household indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.

The decision has fuelled claims that ministers are attempting to placate local leaders in the north of England, who are resisting calls for their areas to be put in tier three, the most severe level of restrictions.

Other MPs believe that the growing number of areas being placed under tighter lockdown measures will effectively lead to another “national lockdown by stealth.”

It comes amid growing expectation among ministers that Mr Johnson will be forced to announce regional “circuit breakers” by the end of the month to slow the rapid increase in covid-19 cases. 

While Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for a national circuit break lasting between two and three weeks, Government sources have suggested that a series of regional lockdowns are more likely. 

During a briefing with health minister Helen Whately on Thursday morning, London MPs were shown new data showing that cases across the city have surged over the past fortnight. 

Speaking shortly after the briefing, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “The virus is spreading rapidly in every corner of our city. We will soon reach an average of 100 cases per 100,000 people, with a significant number of boroughs already over that threshold. 

“Hospital admissions are up, more patients are going into intensive care units, and sadly the number of Londoners dying is again increasing everyday.”

However, a number of the MPs present challenged the decision to impose blanket restrictions over a borough-by-borough approach. 

Hitting out at the move, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader and MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, told The Telegraph: “This is all about avoiding the idea of the north versus the south, chuck London into the mix. 

“The figures I’ve seen for London do not necessitate this. This is a staging post, they are getting London ready for Tier 3. It will be a disaster.” 

His comments were echoed by Bob Neill, the Commons justice committee chairman and MP for Bromley, who said: “I certainly think it’s ill-judged, it’s politically inept and naive. It’s played into Sadiq Khan’s hands. 

“I don’t think it’s justified by the evidence. London is much bigger than any of the other cities we are talking about. It shows a poor understanding of London and it will simply clobber businesses in the suburbs.”

Bob Blackman, the Tory MP for Harrow East, added: “I’ve been saying it’s ridiculous that we would treat London as a whole. This broad brush approach when the infection rates are very different between boroughs is just rubbish.”

Separately, Labour MP Chris Bryant accused Mr Johnson of attempting to avoid a national circuit breaker by imposing additional local lockdowns “slowly, region by region.”

A second MP told the Guardian: “I don’t like to be flippant but that’s called the whole of south east of England. This is a national lockdown by stealth.”

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