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Tory business minister Nadhim Zahawi has called for an end to “corrosive” leaks after it was reported that ministers were set to announce new lockdown measures on Monday.
Leaders in the north have already hit out at Boris Johnson after details of his plans to introduce tough new restrictions from Monday to tackle a surge in cases across England were reported earlier this week.
According to The Times, the Prime Minister is set to order the closure of as many as 7,000 pubs and restaurants in the North and the Midlands as part of a new “traffic light” system for escalating lockdown measures in England.
But the leaking of the plans has provoked fury among local leaders, with Sheffield City Region metro mayor Dan Jarvis tweeting: “Recklessly irresponsible to brief the papers but not leaders in the North who’ll somehow have to make this work.”
Meanwhile, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said the plans had emerged despite “no discussion” and “no consultation” with local authorities.
He added: “Millions of lives affected by Whitehall diktat. It is proving impossible to deal with this government.”
And writing in The Daily Telegraph, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the revelation of the details had created “anxiety” among communities.
“It was an act of gross irresponsibility for anonymous Number 10 sources to tell a few newspapers on Thursday about plans to impose further restrictions on millions of people, without any detail, without any consultation and without any statement from the Prime Minister,” he wrote.
“This has significantly added to the sense of confusion, chaos and unfairness in the approach that is being taken.”
But speaking to Sky News on Friday morning, Mr Zahawi insisted ministers were not to blame for the leaks, claiming they were doing a “disservice” to frontline workers.
” I think you will agree with me that these leaks are completely counterproductive,” he said.
“Whoever is leaking this stuff is doing a disservice to the service. I was asked earlier about what is happening on the frontline, you are doing a disservice to the service by speculation and leaks.
“I think that is wrong. The right thing to do is wait for the decisions the government will always attempt to make sure we do in a coordinated way with the local teams.
“I can promise you that this minister, or no minister, would actually instruct any member of staff to go out and actually brief this stuff out. These are terrible leaks.”
And asked whether the reports could lead to a Whitehall leak inquiry, he responded: “Rightly so, this is really bad that people are leaking this stuff and I hope whoever is doing it will stop because it is counterproductive, it is confusing and it is corrosive.”
Details of the plans have also prompted anger among some Tory backbenchers who are becoming increasingly sceptical of the scientific data behind the 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants.
On Thursday, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty provided a briefing to 149 MPs from the North and the Midlands, saying the data showed over 30% of coronavirus transmissions could be occuring in hospitality venues.
But MPs complained the “selective” statistics used to justify the plans to close pubs in the North were drawn from data from just 98 venues.
One Tory MP who attended the briefing told the Daily Mail it was “clear that the data to justify further action on hospitality is incredibly thin. It is so weak they can’t even publish it.”
Responding to the comments on LBC news, Mr Zahawi said the sample size was “pretty robust”.
He added: “I used to work in the serving industry and I can tell you when you do business surveys, 98 businesses, or 100 businesses, is actually quite a representative sample.
“If you’re doing public opinions, 1,000 interviews is a representative sample…It’s actually a pretty robust sampling.”