Former Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry says the virus threatens to widen the disparity between the North and South
Over 50 Northern Tory MPs from “red wall” seats are demanding a “roadmap out of lockdown” from the Prime Minister and a post-COVID economic recovery plan for areas in the north of England.
As Warrington and parts of Nottinghamshire have become the latest areas to be placed under Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions, the MPs have voiced their anger over the hardship brought by strict lockdown rules.
These demands come in a hard-hitting letter to the prime minister from the newly-launched Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs, led by former Boris Johnson ally and ex-Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry.
Mr Berry, who has previously called COVID-19 restrictions on the North “London-centric” and “the manacles of state control”, claims the virus threatens to increase the North-South divide and “send the North into reverse”.
The group is calling on the government to begin work to “level-up the North”, which Mr Johnson has claimed is his mission after the Tories made sweeping gains from Labour in the region in the general election.
This comes after Dr Tristan Cope, the medical director at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Royal, Aintree and Broadgreen hospitals, said a “huge strain” had been placed on hospital staff in Liverpool and added that numbers were still rising.
In what amounts to a manifesto for the North, the MPs’ demands include:
- Set out a clear roadmap out of lockdown
- Prioritise accelerating key road, rail and social infrastructure projects and job creation
- Develop a tailored economic recovery plan for the North
Mr Berry, MP for the Lancashire constituency of Rossendale and Darwen, said:
“The North has seen a level of disruption unparalleled with other parts of the country.”
“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.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has vowed that the government will “go further” as he has announced three new measures that are supposed to help workers and businesses to get through the winter months, as well as the ongoing second spike of COVID-19.
Tory MP William Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove in Greater Manchester and a rebel against coronavirus restrictions, added: “We have long needed a good deal for the North from the government and the virus has only exacerbated that need.”
“This isn’t about giving government a tough time – the prime minister shares our collective priority. But there are compelling and constructive arguments we, as a group of Northern MPs, can make to government about how it delivers on its promise to level up the North.”
“From transport to digital connectivity, education and skills to small businesses, our region and its people can propel our national recovery.”
“On a pan-northern basis, we can work with government to create wealth and opportunity for our constituents, building back better after COVID.”