Dominic Raab has refused to rule out a third national lockdown if there is another wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the new year.
The foreign secretary, who took charge of the government when Boris Johnson was hospitalised with Covid-19 earlier this year, told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show there was a “risk” of a third wave “if we don’t get the balance right”.
He said: “But so far the R level is coming down – that’s really important – and that’s why we’re starting with the tiered approach.”
But asked whether there would be another national lockdown if people fail to comply with the rules, Raab said: “We’re doing everything we can to avoid that.”
It came as Johnson attempted to head off a Tory rebellion by offering parliament another chance to vote on the restrictions early next year, saying the legislation will have a “sunset of February 3”.
He also said that at the first review of the measures on December 16 he would move areas down a tier where there is “robust evidence” that coronavirus is in sustained decline.
Johnson wrote to Tory MPs on Saturday night ahead of a crunch Commons vote on the restrictions on Tuesday, when scores of them could rebel.
They are angry at that so much of the country will be under stringent restrictions when the national lockdown ends.
Johnson said the government will review local areas’ tiers every fortnight and bring the regulations before parliament after the fourth review on January 27 which will determine whether the tier system stays in place until the end of March.
He also said the first such review, on December 16, would consider the views of local directors of public health, with a final decision on whether any areas should change tiers made at a Cabinet committee. The changes would come into effect on December 19.
In a further olive branch to MPs, the prime minister committed to publish more data and outline what circumstances need to change for an area to move down a tier, as well analysis of the health, economic and social impacts of the measures taken to suppress coronavirus.
Several senior Tories have expressed opposition to the measures, including the 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady who said he wanted to see people “treated as adults” and trusted with their own health decisions.
Pauline Latham, Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire, said she “might” support the government in a vote on the tiered measures if “more evidence” is laid out.
Asked how strong the anger is among MPs and how many might rebel, she said: “I think it will depend very much on what Boris does between now and Tuesday.”
She added that “people are not happy” and that MPs are “only reflecting what their constituents are saying to them”.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said Labour was seeking “clarity” about the new tier system ahead of this week’s vote, warning her party’s support was “not unconditional”.
Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly will be under the lightest tier 1 controls, while large swathes of the Midlands, North East and North West are in the most restrictive tier 3.
In total, 99% of England will enter tier 2 or 3, with tight restrictions on bars and restaurants and a ban on households mixing indoors when the four-week national lockdown lifts on Wednesday.