The Northern Research Group (NRG), led by former Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, have written to the Prime Minister to express their concerns. The group’s members also include four former, but highly-prominent Cabinet ministers — David Davis, David Jones, Esther McVey and David Mundell. A huge North-South divide has been developing over recent weeks around the Government’s new three-tier lockdown systems, as most areas with the strictest rules are located in the North of England.
The NRG are calling on Mr Johnson to detail a “clear road-map” to exit the current coronavirus lockdown and to develop a strong economic recovery plan for the north of the country.
They also want the Government to prioritise several key infrastructure projects and to accelerate the creation of jobs throughout the region.
The NRG said in their letter to Mr Johnson: “We share concerns that the cost of COVID could be paid for by the downgrading of the levelling-up agenda, and northern constituencies like ours will be left behind.
“We believe this would threaten to undermine the Government’s hard-won mandate in December.
Boris Johnson is coming under increasing pressure fromo his own Tory MPs
The Prime Minister is facing calls to detail a clear strategy to enter the coronavirus lockdown
“We are today calling for your support to create a pathway down the tiering system and to create a Northern Economic Recovery Plan to help our constituents build back better out of this COVID crisis.”
“Providing greater clarity about how local areas move down the tiering system and reopen economies” … “Prioritizing and accelerating” key infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail and ultrafast broadband … And Chancellor Rishi Sunak “working on a regional basis to create employment opportunities and growth.”
“We urge you to reflect carefully on our promise to people living in the north during the last election with the levelling-up agenda and make our region central to the country’s economic recovery.”
Former Northern Powerhouse Minister Mr Berry said: “Our party’s return to Government in December was won on the back of hard-working people in constituencies like ours who backed the Conservatives for the first time in a generation, and who did so on the promise that they would not be forgotten.
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Liverpool was the first area to enter Tier 3 lockdown
“We cannot forget that we must deliver on our commitments made during that election, to level-up northern communities and create opportunity across our region.”
Mr Berry, who is also Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, also warned the North is experiencing “a level of disruption unparalleled with other parts of the country” as a result of the devastating impact from the coronavirus pandemic.
He added: “The virus has exposed in sharp relief the deep structural and systemic disadvantage faced by our communities and it threatens to continue to increase the disparity between the North and South still further.
“Our constituents have been some of the hardest hit by this virus with many losing jobs, businesses, and livelihoods.
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Jake Berry is leading the newly-formed Northern Research Group
Several areas in the North have been hit with the strictest lockdown measures
“Never has there been a more pertinent and urgent political and economic case to support people living in the North.
“However, instead of moving forwards on our shared ambitions, the cost of COVID and the virus itself threatens to send the North into reverse.”
Last December, Mr Johnson led his Conservative Party to an 80-seat majority in the general election, winning many seats from traditional Labour constituencies in the North, known famously as the Red Wall.
But he is coming under increasing pressure, with MPs warning Labour could regain these seats at the next election in 2024 if the Government breaks its promise to “level up” the country.
The Government’s three-tier lockdown system explained
Downing Street has attempted to play down these fears, stressing its ambitions for the country from last year’s election are “unchanged”.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to levelling up across the country and building back better after coronavirus.
“We stood at the last election on a solemn promise that we would improve people’s lives, and although the pandemic has meant 2020 is not the year we all hoped it would be, our ambitions for the country are unchanged.”