Boris Johnson is facing a fresh revolt from his own backbenches after the government was expected to detail a new tougher three-tier system for England when its national lockdown ends on December 2.
Johnson will detail the strengthened tiered system in a statement to the House of Commons, where he will appear virtually from Downing Street as he is continuing to self-isolate after coming into contact with an MP who later tested positive for Covid-19.
But the full details of the relaxation of rules for Christmas are not expected until after the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland agree on the plans with their own cabinets.
The prime minister is facing the threat of a backbench revolt to his “winter Covid plan” for England after dozens of Conservative MPs warned they could not back further restrictions without extensive evidence.
Downing Street said more areas are expected to enter higher tiers next month while those tiers will be strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the four-week lockdown.
The prime minister was warned in a letter by the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), said by a source close to the group to be signed by 70 Tory MPs, that he will have to provide a cost-benefit analysis to show the restrictions “will save more lives than they cost”.
The CRG warned against any post-Christmas increase in restrictions to counteract the relaxation in the letter signed by the group’s leaders, former Brexit minister Steve Baker and ex-chief whip Mark Harper.
“We cannot live under such a series of damaging lockdowns and apparently arbitrary restrictions and expect our constituents to be grateful for being let out to enjoy the festive season only to have strict restrictions imposed on them afterwards that cause them health problems and destroy their livelihood,” they wrote.
But chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested providing the evidence they require will be a tall order, paving the way for a significant challenge to get Parliament’s approval for the restrictions when MPs get a vote in the days before the restrictions are to come into force.
“It’s very hard to be precise in estimating the particular impact of a one-week restriction,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
However, in one move likely to be welcomed by Conservative rebels, Sunak confirmed to The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC that plans to change the curfew period for pubs and restaurants in England is “definitely something we’re looking at”.
The government is understood to be preparing to unveil a plan so that while last orders must be called at 10pm, people will get an extra hour to finish their food and drinks, with opening hours to be extended until 11pm.
Downing Street will hope an easing at Christmas, potential vaccines on the horizon and new scientific evidence will lessen the scale of a rebellion, with the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) expected to publish papers on Monday saying the previous tiers were not strong enough.
When the Commons voted on the current lockdown earlier this month, 32 Conservatives rebelled to oppose the measures and 17 more, including former prime minister Theresa May, abstained.
Labour has so far been supportive of the need for restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19 and a full-scale Commons defeat on the plan is unlikely.