Britons told Christmas will not be normal

Sam Blewett and Lewis McKenzie, PA Political Staff
·3-min read

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned that "Christmas is not going to be normal" despite England preparing to move out of lockdown and into a strengthened three-tier system of local coronavirus restrictions next month.

Boris Johnson will detail his "winter Covid plan" on Monday, setting out measures to replace the national lockdown due to be lifted on December 2, and how people can spend the festive period.

Mr Sunak said the localised tiered system is a "far better way" to tackle Covid-19 as he confirmed the Prime Minister's plans, which were expected to be approved by the Cabinet on Sunday.

"I think, frustrating as it is for all of us, Christmas is not going to be normal this year," he told a Sky TV program.

"But that said, the Prime Minister and everyone else, we're looking at ways to see how families can spend some time with each other over (the) Christmas period.

"Obviously that's something that we would like to do and it's been a difficult year for all of us, but as I said it's not going to be a normal Christmas this year."

He confirmed to The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC that plans to change the curfew period for pubs and restaurants is "definitely something we're looking at".

The Prime Minister 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.

Johnson runs the risk of a rebellion from backbench Conservative MPs when they vote on the restrictions in the days before they are scheduled to come into force on December 2.

On Saturday a group of around 70 conservative MPs warned they "cannot support" a tiered approach unless the Government produces a cost-benefit analysis showing they "will save more lives than they cost".

Their letter said: "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.

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.

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.

Sage member Professor Calum Semple told Ridge "in reality we can't ban Christmas" because it would "simply lead to breaches".

The Government announced a further 341 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 54,626.