23 November 2020
Lockdown in all but name is bitter blow for business

Sir Iain Duncan Smith writes for the Daily Mail

The national lockdown may be ending next week, but the plan to introduce a toughened-up three-tier system to replace it does not sound like any meaningful let up in the devastating restrictions the country faces. Indeed, coming just before Christmas, it will be a hammer blow for shops and restaurants.

With the economy already on the ropes, I fear it will force vast numbers of firms out of business and cast countless people out of work.

And yet convincing evidence that these stringent restrictions should be implemented has not been produced.

Many of us at Westminster have grave concerns about the quality of the advice being given to the Prime Minister, not least because of the seismic consequences of decisions made on the back of it.

When the first lockdown came, we were told it would only last a few weeks. Instead it lasted months. The result was that our economy fell by 10 per cent, the worst performance for 300 years, with huge numbers of people dying for lack of health treatment for non-Covid conditions.

Despite that, we went into in a second lockdown. In the week before we entered it, the Government used data to make the case that the health service was set to be overwhelmed, ICUs would be filled to overflowing and the scale of deaths far higher than the first lockdown.

Yet, as the Mail pointed out at the time, the data was out of date and incorrect. It transpired that we had been bounced into a second lockdown at the very moment the tiered system was actually working.

The crucial R-rate of infections was slowing, and in places such as Liverpool that downward trend was dramatic.

What is more, the trend has continued, as we can see from figures leading into last weekend. The R-rate is flattening and turning down and forecasts of hospital capacity being overwhelmed have turned out to be wide of the mark. Even the capacity of ICUs is below the five-year average.

Ah, say those in favour of lockdown, that’s because we locked down. Well, that’s simply not true.

How do I know? Because some MPs were briefed last week by important government medical and scientific advisers.

They made it very clear that the effects of the lockdown would not be felt until at least Sunday. This confirmed what other advisers had indicated from the outset – that it would take three weeks from the start of lockdown for its effects to come through.

However, the figures show the virus was coming under control less than 15 days after lockdown. In other words, the tiered system had been working. Which is why it seems so perverse for this Government to decide that, from December 2, we need yet more restrictive tiers. In effect, a national lockdown by another name.

Given that the economy is in free fall, borrowing is rising like a rocket and tens of thousands of people face major delays for non-Covid health treatment, I wonder if those advising the Government have any concept of the devastating consequences of such a proposal.

The hospitality sector is collapsing, and more and more people will fall into unemployment as business can no longer be sustained.

Because of this intolerable and unaffordable damage to the country we need a proper cost-benefit analysis of the proposed restrictions. We have to assess the wider consequences of such a programme.

Just days ago, the Prime Minister was discussing the prospect of loosening tier restrictions after December 2. But now, the last prospect that business could trade in a meaningful way is being dashed.

Even as the arrival of vaccines gives hope, a further tightening of restrictions will take away that hope for millions. The only recourse is to have a full and balanced assessment of the cost and potential damage to our country of such plans – before it is too late.