Boris Johnson has been warned by more than 50 Tory MPs that his handling of the coronavirus pandemic could “send the North into reverse”.
A group of northern Conservative backbenchers, led by former northern powerhouse minister Jake Berry, has written to the prime minister expressing their concerns.
The Northern Research Group (NRG) wants Johnson to set out a “clear road-map” out of lockdown and to develop an economic recovery plan for the North.
They are also urging the government to prioritise key infrastructure projects and to accelerate job creation in the region.
A North-South divide has emerged with the government’s coronavirus tier system, as all areas under the strictest restrictions are in the North and Midlands.
Berry, who represents Rossendale and Darwen, said: “Our party’s return to government in December was won on the back of hard-working people in constituencies like ours who backed the Conservatives for the first time in a generation, and who did so on the promise that they would not be forgotten.
“We cannot forget that we must deliver on our commitments made during that election, to level-up northern communities and create opportunity across our region.”
He said the North has seen “a level of disruption unparalleled with other parts of the country” because of the pandemic.
He added: “The virus has exposed in sharp relief the deep structural and systemic disadvantage faced by our communities and it threatens to continue to increase the disparity between the North and South still further.
“Our constituents have been some of the hardest hit by this virus with many losing jobs, businesses, and livelihoods.
“Never has there been a more pertinent and urgent political and economic case to support people living in the North.
“However, instead of moving forwards on our shared ambitions, the cost of Covid and the virus itself threatens to send the North into reverse.”
Some 40 Conservative MPs have publicly signed the letter, while a further 14 have had their names redacted.
Johnson won a majority of 80 seats at last year’s general election, turning many traditional Labour constituencies – which formed the so-called Red Wall – blue.
Some MPs have expressed concern that these newly won seats could be returned to Labour at the next election if the government fails to deliver on its promise to “level up” the country.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to levelling up across the country and building back better after coronavirus.
“We stood at the last election on 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.”
Shadow Treasury minister Bridget Phillipson commented: “Even Boris Johnson’s own MPs know that he cannot be trusted to deliver on his promises.
“The government has been treating local communities with contempt.
“The decision not to extend free school meals is the clearest sign yet that the Conservatives have the wrong priorities and are not on the side of British families.”