A senior minister said he has not seen a so-called “secret dossier” showing that dozens of sectors are in trouble as the Government braces for a Tory revolt on a toughened set of coronavirus controls.
A report in the Times suggested there is a Whitehall dashboard showing Covid-19’s impact on almost 40 sectors of the economy, with a red rating – indicating significant job cuts and revenue losses – next to aerospace, the automotive industry, retail, hospitality and tourism, arts and sport.
It comes after Tory MPs expressed their dismay that impact assessments of the tiered system, published ahead of Tuesday’s vote in the Commons on the proposed post-lockdown changes, did not include a detailed breakdown of the effects of the measures on different parts of the economy.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he had not been given sight of the dashboard and stressed it relied on “publicly available” data.
Asked if he had seen the “secret dossier”, Mr Gove said: “No, I haven’t, but the evidence that I understand is in that dashboard is broadly drawn from ONS (Office for National Statistics) and other publicly available statistical databases and also reports from business representative organisations.”
The Cabinet Office minister, defending the move to put 99% of England’s population into the tough measures of Tier 2 and Tier 3 when the second national lockdown ends on Wednesday, said it is the pandemic and not the restrictions that are to blame for the blow to the economy.
“Let’s put this in context and the reason why we’re suffering economic damage,” he added.
“Because of a pandemic, every developed economy across the globe has to decide how to deal with the pandemic.
“Every developed economy across the globe has taken the view, which I think is right, that if your health system is overwhelmed then it will be impossible to deal effectively with the pandemic and that the economic damage would be greater.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to open the Commons debate on the tiered approach on Tuesday, with a result due in the evening.
The Government is expected to win the vote on the new rules – which are due to come into effect the following day – after Labour said it would abstain.
Sir Keir Starmer – who has previously backed Government measures – said that, while his party has “serious misgivings”, it would not be in the national interest to vote them down when the virus still poses a “serious risk”.
The Opposition move will likely shine a spotlight on the size of the Tory rebellion, with many backbenchers furious that their constituencies face stricter controls than before the latest lockdown.
Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have been designated for the lightest Tier 1 restrictions.
Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, made up of lockdown-sceptic Tories, said the Government’s impact analysis seemed “to be collapsing under the glare of scrutiny” following its publication.
“We are now seeing that, once again, the wheels are coming off the Government’s arguments,” he said.
In related news, there was further confusion around whether Scotch eggs would act as a work-around for drinkers hoping to gazump Tier 2 restrictions after Mr Gove appeared to make contradictory statements.
Cabinet minister George Eustice said on Monday that ordering a Scotch egg with a pint would constitute a “substantial meal” under Tier 2 rules, which will only allow alcohol to be served with food.
Questioned on the issue, Mr Gove initially told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that the sausagemeat-wrapped snack is “probably a starter” but later, in an interview with ITV News, said he recognises “that it is a substantial meal”.
He took a firmer line, however, against the suggestion that pubs and restaurants could refuse people entry if they have not had the coronavirus jab once it becomes widely available.
Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for the rollout of a vaccine, said on Monday that, while it would not be compulsory to receive an injection, pubs and restaurants could demand to know if a customer has received the vaccine before permitting entry.
But Mr Gove told Sky News: “I certainly am not planning to introduce any vaccine passports and I don’t know anyone else in Government (who is).”
Meanwhile, when it was put to him that the second peak in infections came on November 10, said he thought it came later during the autumn lockdown.
According to PA news agency analysis, based on a seven-day rolling average of when test results were reported, there was a peak in UK cases on November 13.
It comes as the Government said a further 205 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, taking the UK total to 58,448.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has been warned by business representatives that forcing pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes to stop selling alcohol and to shut by 6pm from Friday will devastate the country’s hospitality industry in the run-up to Christmas.