Coronavirus: Dozens of Conservative MPs form backbench group to fight further lockdowns

Around 50 Conservative MPs have formed a backbench group to fight any further lockdowns, arguing they “risk being worse than the disease”.

The Covid Recovery Group demands that Boris Johnson publish a cost-benefit analysis of the economic and wider health costs of restrictions continuing beyond the 2 December expiry date.

He is also told to end the “monopoly” of advice given by the government’s scientists, to allow them to be challenged by other expert groups.

A third demand is to improve the measures already in place to tackle the virus, including overhauling the poor performance of the test-and-trace system.

“The country is badly in need of a different and enduring strategy for living with the virus that doesn’t require us to keep living under a series of damaging lockdowns and seemingly arbitrary restrictions,” said Mark Harper, the group’s chairman.

“At the moment, the cure we’re prescribing runs the very real risk of being worse than the disease, and it’s important we base our decisions on informed scientific, economic and health data.”

The move is a warning shot at the prime minister, who has surprised and angered many Tories by siding with the supporters of the current four-week lockdown in England.

A total of 34 Conservatives rebelled in the Commons vote last week, so the 50-strong membership – with many more MPs said to be considering joining – suggestes the revolt is growing.

The prime minister has conceded a fresh vote if the government decides the lockdown needs to be extended, while insisting that will not happen.

The group is unlikely to be able to stop a longer lockdown, but it could potentially force Mr Johnson into the embarrassment of relying on Labour votes to get it through.

It will be seen in Westminster as an echo of the European Research Group, the powerful group of Tory MPs which opposed Theresa May’s Brexit deal and helped topple her from power.

It can also be considered a reaction to the decision by Nigel Farage to apply to rebrand his Brexit Party as a new anti-lockdown party called Reform UK.

Tory backbenchers were infuriated when, after last week’s vote for the national lockdown, forecasts for the maximum feared numbers of deaths were revised down, after criticism.