The government has been accused of attempting to “placate Tory MPs” by overruling a Manchester council’s decision to stay in a local lockdown and instead lifting coronavirus restrictions.
Northern leaders had already expressed concerns about health secretary Matt Hancock’s new system of drawing up local lockdowns, which gave MPs a greater say.
Hancock last week asked councils and MPs to reach a consensus on which of their local districts should be freed from coronavirus restrictions and which should remain under lockdown, but leaders warned the idea was a “recipe for disaster”.
On Friday, it emerged that Trafford council’s conclusion that local restrictions on social gatherings between different households should continue was overruled by the government in defiance of the local authority’s wishes – a decision branded “disgraceful”.
Meanwhile, a source in Bradford said they understood that the council area would be effectively cut in half, with restrictions lifted in Tory MPs’ constituencies but continuing to apply in Labour areas.
The source described it as “blatant politicisation of decision-making”.
As of 4pm on Friday, the Department for Health and Social Care had still not revealed the full list of areas locked down.
But information began filtering out through individual councils.
In a statement, Trafford Labour said the council asked for another week or two of local restrictions on households meeting due to the imminent opening of schools and the long weekend, as well as concerns about neighbouring Greater Manchester boroughs which had higher infection rates.
But, they added: “It is apparent that for all of their claims of working in collaboration with local authorities, the government has decided to overrule the council and lift restrictions in Trafford.”
Council leader Andrew Western later added: “Nobody has bothered to discuss the government’s decision with me – accept a finely balanced decision and we will continue work with residents and businesses over the next few weeks to keep people safe.
“It is absolutely clear that government claims of partnership working with local authorities are nonsense and approach all about placating Tory MPs.
“No one in government has explained (the) decision to overrule us to me, or bothered to contact me at all. Disgraceful.”
Senior Tory Sir Graham Brady, who is MP for Altrincham which falls under Trafford councils, rejected Western’s claims.
Brady, who chairs the powerful Tory backbench 1922 committee, told the Telegraph he had contacted DHSC after being “unpersuaded” by the council’s reasons for extending lockdown.
“I understand that DHSC offered a choice of ending restrictions on the wards with the lowest infection rates, or ending restrictions for the whole borough, and the council chose the latter,” he said.
“It is worth noting that 19 of 21 wards had between zero and five cases in the last week, with 11 wards have no cases or a single case... Making it illegal for people to see their families seems like an extreme measure in these circumstances.”
Meanwhile, restrictions on mixing between different households in homes or gardens in Burnley and Hyndburn will be lifted from next Wednesday in line with the rest of England, according to public health officials in Lancashire.
Existing coronavirus restrictions in Preston and parts of Pendle will remain, with residents still banned from visiting others in their homes or gardens but they can continue to meet in groups of up to six in outdoor public areas.
People living elsewhere in Pendle and in the northern part of Blackburn with Darwen will still not be able to socialise with anyone outside their household and should only use public transport if essential.
Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South, said: “I am extremely disappointed that no part of Bradford South has been removed from the local restrictions by the government this week.
“In the consensus meeting held on Tuesday I made the case for Bradford South to be removed from local restrictions and to revert to the national restrictions given the low to medium infection rate across the constituency.
“The government needs to explain why they have ignored the views of me and my constituents. During this pandemic, it is vital that government acts, and is seen to act, without political bias.
“I have written to the health secretary to ask him to explain his decision and to publish the data and criteria used to make it.”