Published: 19:28, 01 December 2020
| Updated: 08:39, 02 December 2020
The government has survived a backbench revolt over its controversial tier system - meaning Kent will enter tier three from midnight.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to endure some hostile interventions from Kent backbench MPs during a five-hour Commons debate today and was forced to offer assurances the tier restrictions would be under regular review as he sought to head off what would have been an embarrassing defeat.
He hinted that future reviews could be based on local circumstances but warned it was no time to relax. In the end he was one of 78 to rebel, with Labour abstaining and 291 backing the move.
He told the Commons: "As we go forward... the government will look at how we can reflect as closely as possible the reality of what is happening on the ground for local people, looking at the incidence of the disease, looking at the human geography and spread of the pandemic, and indeed the progress that areas are making in getting the virus down."
Several Kent MPs made no secret of their dismay at the decision for the whole of the county to be placed in the most high risk category of tier three, with Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells), Damian Green (Ashford), Craig Mackinlay (Thanet South) and Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) among the rebels.
Mr Green was among Kent MPs to take the government to task before the vote and said he was sorry to have to vote against his own government.
"I would be failing my constituents if I didn't register a strong protest about the ways the restrictions have been applied..in an arbitrary manner."
While he understood the needs to balance the health of people against the business community, the government had not got it right, he said, adding: “What we have today fails the test of maximising voluntary public support...the problem for us is the sheer size of the county and the huge disparity of infection rates."
He had received many messages and emails from constituents, whose anger about the restrictions was on a par with the number who contacted him to complain about Boris Johnson's special adviser,Dominic Cummings, driving to Cumbria in breach of the first lockdown.
Mr Clark said the whole purpose of mass testing was to allow local forensically-directed action “and to be free of crude, blind massive intervention... and that is why there is outrage in Kent.”
He added: “Everyone in the borough knows that the infection rate is low.Yet people in Tunbridge Wells are being asked to comply immediately with action that is known by everyone to be completely inappropriate. Pubs, cafes and restaurants risk being boarded up for the winter when the level infection in my area is closer to Cornwall and the Isle of Wight rather than North Kent.”
Before the debate got underway, the Dover and Deal MP Natalie Elphicke, who had been among the signatories to a letter complaining about the tier three category Kent was being placed in, announced that she would be backing the government.
“I have met with the Health Secretary and Health Ministers several times over recent days to understand the basis for Kent being put into Tier 3, why infection rates are moving in the wrong direction in our Dover area, and what rapid testing and other support is available to help us turn this around.”
“While disappointing, the bottom line is that virus rates are rising, when elsewhere they have been falling, and this must be reversed. So I will be voting for the Government’s measures today.”
But Gravesham's Adam Holloway complained that restrictions had not been the focus of any economic impact assessment.
"It seems the government is acting on largely uncontested information...the Covid recovery group just want proper economic impact assessments."
The vote ends the month-long lockdown and replaces it with the controversial tier system.