Cabinet hawks Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson sideline Matt Hancock over lockdown

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Tensions between Boris Johnson and his chief scientists are at risk of catching fire today amid claims they wanted bombshell SAGE minutes calling for a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to be ‘out there’.

The extraordinary spat emerged hours after the PM unveiled his plan for ‘Three Tiers’ of local restrictions to tackle surging coronavirus cases last night.

At a No10 press conference, Mr Johnson defiantly insisted that he had no intention of imposing a UK-wide squeeze that would ‘shatter’ the economy. 

But almost immediately the papers from a SAGE meeting from September 21 were released, showing that is exactly what the key group had suggesting. 

The timing of the dump on the gov.uk site – which was out of line with the usual Friday publication schedule – sparked speculation that ministers were trying to bury the news.

However, government sources dismissed the idea that the late-night revelation was a tactic, pointing out that the story has still dominated the headlines today. One suggested Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, who oversee SAGE, dictated the timing of the disclosure, saying: ‘They were keen to get it out there.’

Nicola Sturgeon waded into the row today by swiping that her ‘circuit breaker’ in Scotland was backed by scientific advice, and insisting ‘half-measures’ would not work.

But Downing Street made clear that the government was balancing the interests of the economy against containing infections. 

Meanwhile, it has emerged that deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam effectively disowned the 10pm pubs curfew ahead of a Commons showdown with Tories this evening.

During a briefing with MPs on the 10pm curfew yesterday Prof Van-Tam was pressed repeatedly for the scientific justification, and sources told MailOnline he said: ‘That was a policy decision not a scientific one.’ 

The wrangling came amid persistent rumours of infighting between Cabinet ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’. Matt Hancock, believed to be one of the hardest line ministers on the need for curbs, was notably kept off the airwaves yesterday, although he was working on the measures with local mayors.

Instead, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, seen as a hawk on the need to protect the economy, joined the PM at the No10 press conference last night. 

In other dramatic twists and turns today: 

  • The UK recorded 17,234 new coronavirus cases today, a rise of 18.5 per cent per cent on last Tuesday, and another 143 deaths; 
  • Mr Johnson is braced for a backlash as MPs vote on the new ‘Tiered’ coroanvirus lockdown system this evening;
  • A snap poll found the public does not believe the new measures are tough enough and want the government to go further;
  • Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is demanding the PM imposes a legal ban on people in high-infection areas in England travelling to Wales, threatening to enforce the rule unilaterally if he does not;
  • The unemployment rate has risen to 4.5 per cent, with an 138,000 increase in June to August;
  • Labour leaders in the North demanded more cash handouts from the government to support lockdown and called the new furlough scheme ‘insufficient’.

There are claims Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, who oversee SAGE, dictated the timing of the minutes disclosure

There are claims Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, who oversee SAGE, dictated the timing of the minutes disclosure

An extraordinary spat with SAGE emerged hours after Boris Johnson (pictured with Rishi Sunak today) unveiled his plan for 'Three Tiers' of local restrictions to tackle surging cocornavirus cases last night

An extraordinary spat with SAGE emerged hours after Boris Johnson (pictured with Rishi Sunak today) unveiled his plan for 'Three Tiers' of local restrictions to tackle surging cocornavirus cases last night

An extraordinary spat with SAGE emerged hours after Boris Johnson (pictured with Rishi Sunak today) unveiled his plan for ‘Three Tiers’ of local restrictions to tackle surging cocornavirus cases last night

Mr Hancock, seen as a Cabinet ‘dove’ who supports efforts to protect health before the economy, was accused last week of trying to ‘bounce’ Mr Johnson into a harsh lockdown with a series of warnings about the problems to come this winter.

Bombshell minutes from a SAGE meeting presented a shortlist of options including a national 'circuit breaker' lockdown, banning all indoor contact between households, and closing bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and hairdressers

Bombshell minutes from a SAGE meeting presented a shortlist of options including a national 'circuit breaker' lockdown, banning all indoor contact between households, and closing bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and hairdressers

Bombshell minutes from a SAGE meeting presented a shortlist of options including a national ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, banning all indoor contact between households, and closing bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and hairdressers

Britons say Boris Johnson’s ‘Three Tier’ local lockdown is NOT enough to control coronavirus 

A snap YouGov poll found 40 per cent want tougher measures than the PM unveiled yesterday, compared to just 19 per cent who thought he has struck the right balance

A snap YouGov poll found 40 per cent want tougher measures than the PM unveiled yesterday, compared to just 19 per cent who thought he has struck the right balance

A snap YouGov poll found 40 per cent want tougher measures than the PM unveiled yesterday, compared to just 19 per cent who thought he has struck the right balance

Britons do not believe Boris Johnson‘s new ‘Three Tier’ lockdown goes far enough despite millions facing tougher curbs.

A snap YouGov poll found 40 per cent want tougher measures than the PM unveiled yesterday, compared to just 19 per cent who thought he has struck the right balance.

Another 15 per cent say the crackdown is too harsh.

Alarmingly for Downing Street, the public appears to have little faith in the government’s handling of the crisis, with 64 per cent complaining that there is no clear plan. Just 20 per cent had confidence in Mr Johnson’s strategy.

The finding held true even among Tory voters, with 45 per cent saying the premier does not have plan, while 37 per cent were supportive. 

The research was carried out largely before the extraordinary split emerged between ministers and SAGE experts over the scale of action needed to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes despite warnings that a draconian lockdown could devastate the economy, leaving millions unemployed and those still in work facing soaring tax bills. 

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘Sage continues to provide the PM with advice and he continues to work closely with the CMO and CSA to bring forward a package of measures we believe is necessary to strike the right balance between protecting the nation’s health and protecting the nation’s economy’ 

 Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick conceded today that the government is poised to ‘go further’ after the PM unveiled his new ‘Three Tier’ system of local restrictions – but only put Merseyside in the harshest category that will see pubs and bars shut.

Mr Jenrick pointed to high rates of infection in areas such as Greater Manchester and Nottingham, appealing for local leaders to agree terms to move up from Tier Two.

But he dismissed claims that the government was not being ‘robust’ enough, after the documents slipped out late last night showed its own scientific advisers wanted much more dramatic action.

SAGE presented a shortlist of options including banning all indoor contact between households, closing bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and hairdressers.

At the top of the list was the recommendation for a two or three week lockdown with draconian measures similar to those imposed earlier in the pandemic.

‘If this were as strict and well-adhered to as the restrictions in late May, this could put the epidemic back by approximately 28 days or more,’ the dossier said.

The rift had been on show at the Downing Street briefing, when Prof Whitty warned that the toughest Tier Three curbs in the new regime would not be ‘sufficient’ to control the virus.

He urged local authorities to use the ‘flexibility’ in the arrangements to impose even harsher measures.

Labour accused the Government of flouting its own mantra of ‘following the science’, while SAGE members broke cover to complain the new restrictions had come too late.

But in a round of interviews this morning, Mr Jenrick said ministers had to strike a ‘balance’. ‘We probably will need to go further,’ he said. ‘But we want to design these steps jointly between ourselves and local government.’

In the Commons this afternoon, Mr Hancock defended the Tiered lockdown despite attacks from Tory MPs. 

And he also admitted that the 10pm curfew was partly a ‘matter of policy choice’ in order to protect schools and work.

He told the Commons: ‘We already now have evidence from accident and emergency departments that we’ve seen a reduction in alcohol-related admissions late at night after the 10pm curfew.

‘This is both important in its own right but it’s also a proxy as a measure of how much people are drinking late at night, and therefore is evidence there is less mixing and less drinking late at night.’

The Health Secretary said people are largely mixing outside after 10pm, adding: ‘They would otherwise be mixing inside the premises – it’s just easier to photograph outside.’

Boris Johnson was flanked by hawkish Chancellor Rishi Sunak as he unveiled new lockdown measures last night and they again posed for the cameras today (pictured) after placing millions of people into a stricter regime to control the pandemic

Boris Johnson was flanked by hawkish Chancellor Rishi Sunak as he unveiled new lockdown measures last night and they again posed for the cameras today (pictured) after placing millions of people into a stricter regime to control the pandemic

Boris Johnson was flanked by hawkish Chancellor Rishi Sunak as he unveiled new lockdown measures last night and they again posed for the cameras today (pictured) after placing millions of people into a stricter regime to control the pandemic

Nicola Sturgeon boasts her ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown is ‘rooted in scientific advice’

Nicola Sturgeon trolled Boris Johnson over his extraordinary spat with SAGE today, boasting that her ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown is ‘rooted in scientific advice’.

The Scottish First Minister hailed bombshell minutes showing the PM has been defying the government’s own experts for weeks.

And she warned that although her dramatic two-week squeeze on pubs and households mixing was ‘tough’, it was not enough to take ‘half-measures’.

At her daily briefing in Edinburgh this afternoon, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘As you will see from the SAGE advice that was published last night the actions the Scottish government is taking right now are firmly rooted in scientific advice.’ 

She stressed that governments were trying to strike a ‘balance’ and would not always reach the same conclusions.

But she went on: ‘Against his virus we sometimes have to be tough…

‘Half measures often don’t work. What you find is they still inflict economic pain and harm but don’t have the required public health impact.’

Mr Johnson was flanked by Mr Sunak as he unveiled the new lockdown measures last night that placed millions of people into a stricter regime to control the pandemic.

Mr Hancock, seen as a Cabinet ‘dove’ who supports efforts to protect health before the economy, was accused last week of trying to ‘bounce’ Mr Johnson into a harsh  lockdown with a series of warnings about the problems to come this winter.

He spent yesterday working behind the scenes attempting to placate MPs in areas placed into the High and Very High tiers who were worried about the effect on the population and businesses.

In one call he got into a near row with Shipley MP Philip Davies, an opponent of the lockdown, telling him: ‘I know your views, you know mine, this is not a second reading debate, sorry,’ according to the Politics Home website.

One Labour backbencher representing a coronavirus hotpot said Mr Hancock’s absence from the lockdown announcement had been noted. 

‘He’s probably still recovering from his wine in the bar the other night,’ they told MailOnline. 

Mr Hancock was accused at the weekend of breaking his own Covid curfew by drinking in a Commons bar beyond 10pm – where he made a crass joke about the Government’s test and trace failings. 

Mr Hancock arrived at the bar just before a 9.40pm vote, ordered a glass of white wine and announced: ‘The drinks are on me – but Public Health England are in charge of the payment methodology so I will not be paying anything.’ 

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said today the Government appeared to have rejected scientific advice in opting against Sage’s recommendation of a ‘circuit break’ lockdown.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘I’m alarmed that these recommendations to Government appear to have been rejected.

‘Ministers, the Prime Minister often come on the television and radio programmes to say they are always following the science… to justify the decisions they have made.

‘They seem to have rejected this scientific advice.’

Asked if Labour would have supported a short national lockdown, Mr Ashworth said: ‘I think if I was the Secretary of State then we would always follow the scientific advice.

‘What we need to understand from ministers and I will press (Health Secretary) Matt Hancock in the House of Commons later as to why the scientific advice was rejected – we need to understand the minister’s explanation.’

Millions of people are covered by the two higher risk tiers in the government's new system, with the rest of England under the Rule of Six and 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants

Millions of people are covered by the two higher risk tiers in the government's new system, with the rest of England under the Rule of Six and 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants

Millions of people are covered by the two higher risk tiers in the government’s new system, with the rest of England under the Rule of Six and 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants



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