Tories Rebel and Labour Abstains

Parliament will vote today on the Government’s new tier system and Labour will abstain. The Independent has more.

Labour will abstain in a key vote on Boris Johnson’s new COVID-19 tiers. Speaking on Monday night, Sir Keir Starmer said his party was “acting in the national interest” by not opposing the regulations but he said that he had reservations about them. The move is significant because it represents the first time the opposition has failed to back the Government in a vote on COVID-19 regulations.

“Coronavirus remains a serious threat to the public’s health and that’s why Labour accept the need for continued restrictions. We will always act in the national interest, so we will not vote against these restrictions in Parliament tomorrow… However, I remain deeply concerned that Boris Johnson’s Government has failed to use this latest lockdown to put a credible health and economic plan in place. We still don’t have a functioning testing system, public health messaging is confused, and businesses across the country are crying out for more effective economic support to get them through the winter months. It is short-term Government incompetence that is causing long-term damage to the British economy.”

Don’t get too excited. With the Labour party abstaining, rather than voting no, the tier system will still pass. But with a prospect of up to 100 Tory MPs rebelling, the legitimacy of the new COVID-19 regime is shaky at best. How can you reasonably ask people to obey all the new draconian restrictions, particularly those that live in Tier 3 areas, if only a minority of MPs have voted for them?

In the hope of appeasing mutinous Tory backbenchers, Downing Street published a long-awaited ‘impact assessment’ yesterday, but it did little good. Details from the MailOnline:

The Government released its assessment of the economic and social effects of the pandemic and its response this evening. But the document made clear that it is not possible to say exactly how the tiers will hit local areas – a key demand of Conservative MPs. It also insisted there was no way of imposing looser curbs and instead merely argued that it would be “intolerable” to allow the NHS to be overwhelmed.

The assessment said it was “clear that restrictions to contain COVID-19 have had major impacts on the economy and public finances, even if it is not possible to forecast with confidence the precise impact of a specific change to a specific restriction”.

Tory rebel ringleader Mark Harper complained that the information was being released too late, just 24 hours before MPS are due to make their decision. “This information is what Ministers should have been insisting on before they make their decisions so it surely could have been made available earlier,” he said…

Mel Stride, the Tory Chairman of the Treasury Committee, criticised the documents, saying:

“On a number of occasions, I’ve requested from the Chancellor and Treasury officials that they publish an analysis of the economic impacts of the three tiers. With little over 24 hours until MPs vote on the new tiered system, this rehashed document offers very little further in economic terms other than that which the OBR published last week. It is frustrating that there is little here that sets out how the different tiers might impact on the specific sectors and regions across the country. Those looking for additional economic analysis of the new tiered system will struggle to find it in this document.”

Perhaps, in the rush, the Government did not give them the right file. The Times has discovered that the Government has in fact produced impact assessment that includes an analysis of the effect of various restrictions on different sectors of the economy. This gives the lie to the Government’s claim that such an analysis isn’t possible, due to the fiendish complexity of disentangling the effects of the restrictions from the effects of the pandemic. Couldn’t it just have released this internal assessment instead?

The Government has drawn up a secret dossier detailing the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, with a dozen sectors rated “red” and facing significant job cuts and revenue losses, the Times has been told.

The COVID-19 sectoral impacts dashboard, which is prepared by officials from across Whitehall and frequently updated, gives “granular” detail on the effect of coronavirus on nearly 40 areas of the economy.

Among the sectors with a red rating are aerospace, the automotive industry, retail, hospitality and tourism, arts and heritage, maritime, including ferries and cruises, and sport.

Worth reading in full.

At least MPs and decision makers are beginning to think about a cost-benefit analysis. Long-time readers may recall the COBR meeting of March 23rd, when Michael Gove, who was chairing, surprised those present by announcing the Government was planning the country into a national lockdown, effective immediately.

Only Jesse Norman, a Treasury minister, raised any doubts, asking whether there had been any cost-benefit analysis of the economic and health impacts of lockdown or consideration of less onerous alternatives. Around the room there were blank looks: the decision had been taken.

The absence of any such analysis was, notorious, confirmed by the last line of “the Lockdown Regulations”, a statutory instrument enacted at 1pm on March 26th by Matt Hancock:

No impact assessment has been prepared for these Regulations.

Stop Press: Christopher Snowden has done a good thread on the failings of the Government’s cost-benefit analysis document