The government should stop underestimating the public by treating them “like children” in refusing to openly discuss lockdown exit strategies, senior Conservative MPs have said.
Several Conservative backbenchers and former ministers have argued that “strategic clarity” must be now be made public on how the UK may ease its coronavirus lockdown, which has been extended this week until May.
Among them was former Brexit secretary David Davis, who pointed to strategies taken by other countries to communicate the steps to relax measures, insisting that the British public understands that it will be phased.
He said: “Other countries have been very open about what they’ve done.
“There’s really no reason, there’s no argument for not debating and discussing with all the facts available.”
He added there were “lots and lots” of benefits to openly discussing an exit strategy and that the government’s argument to avoid confusing the message was “just wrong”.
“It underestimates the public,” he said, adding: “The public understands that there are phases to this.”
Meanwhile, former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Times the government needs to “accept and admit we are coming out of lockdown” and stop treating people “like children”.
He said: “We need to trust the British people and not treat them like children. We must respect their common sense.
“They need to know that the sun is rising at some point, in an economic sense.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer has suggested the government’s lack of clarity on an exit strategy could be due to Boris Johnson’s absence as he continues his recovery from the illness – but the prime minister’s official spokesman said this is “wrong”.
The government has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks to reveal an exit strategy, but it has pointed instead to the five changes it would need to see happen before it could even begin considering a lift to the lockdown.
These include a decrease in the daily number of deaths and new infections, confidence the NHS can cope and that any adjustments would not lead to a second peak, and the implementation of enough testing to meet demand.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, suggested that a timeless “general road map” would be “well received” by the public, and could be of help to keep “the hearts and minds and support in place”.
He said: “You want people rallying behind government, working with government, not acting against it.
“The best way to do that is to ensure that they are as best informed as to what’s coming around the corner, and therefore fewer surprises, or guessing what might happen next, or speculating, which can be more dangerous.”
When asked if Mr Johnson’s absence could have affected the willingness to talk about an exit plan, he said it had been “a real setback” and that there would be “a step change in communication” when he returns.
This could be in “a few more days”, he said.
“He was clearly hit badly and they want him back in full health, and so he’s following doctors’ order at the moment,” he said.
For now, Mr Ellwood added: “What we need is strategic clarity as to what happens next, and that’s what I’m calling for.
“My concern has been that there has been a clarion call for an exit strategy when the government must make clear there is no exit from this until a vaccine is procured and delivered to a sizeable proportion of the population, therefore the longevity of this needs to be managed.
“Letting the nation know what is coming round the corner helps keep minds focused and people on board.
“So I fully understand the concern of diluting that central message during the lockdown, but I see three phases to this.”
The three phases, according to Mr Ellwood, could consist of a continuation of the lockdown; a post-lockdown and pre-vaccine period where measures are gradually eased; and a vaccine rollout.