A group of over 50 Conservative MPs has called for the prime minister to provide a “clear roadmap” out of the lockdown measures currently choking the economies of their constituencies in the north, where the CCP virus is hitting hardest.
The 8 million people currently under the toughest COVID-19 curbs in England all live in the north, where the Conservative Party made sweeping gains in the last election when they were “lent votes” from life-long Labour voters who wanted Brexit.
In a letter to the prime minister yesterday, Tory MPs said that the pandemic threatened to further drive down prosperity in the north and widen the gap with the south which they had pledged to close in their manifesto.
“Northern parts of our country were among the first to be significantly affected by the COVID outbreak,” they said in the letter, “and now many communities have been put back under severe restrictions.”
“We believe the government can foster wider support by setting out a clear roadmap down the tiering system and out of lockdown,” they wrote. “We believe that providing greater clarity about how local areas move down the tiering system and reopen economies would be of benefit to both people and businesses in our region.”
Members of the group—who said they were appealing on behalf of communities in the north of England, north Wales, and Scottish borders—deny undermining the prime minister.
The group of MPs is called the Northern Research Group (NRG), echoing the European Research Group (ERG) which became a powerful internal lobbying engine that drove forward Brexit at a time when many Conservative MPs were ambivalent towards leaving the EU.
It was founded by MP Jake Berry, who is Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth.
The NRG letter was publicly signed by 41 MPs, with a further 13 withholding their names.
They said that they welcomed the financial support packages that accompanied Tier 3 measures as well as the furlough scheme, but worried that that economic life support might come at the cost of the government’s “levelling-up agenda”—a government pledge to grow infrastructure and prosperity.
“We believe this would threaten to undermine the government’s hard-won mandate in December,” wrote the MPs.
They called for an economic recovery plan for the north with a focus on building infrastructure, to include the acceleration of plans for ultra-fast broadband and development of the Transpennine railway system.
Berry, who is a close ally of the prime minister, rejected the idea that it was a “revolt” against the party leadership.
Berry told the BBC Today programme that they were asking the prime minister to reaffirm his commitment to “stimulate the north.”
A spokesman for the prime minister’s office told The Epoch Times via email, “We are absolutely committed to levelling-up across the country and building back better after coronavirus.”
“We made a solemn promise that we would improve people’s lives, and although the pandemic has meant 2020 is not the year we all hoped it would be, our ambitions for the country are unchanged.”