Coronavirus could send North ‘into reverse’ – York MP joins Tory colleagues pressing PM for action

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire
27 Oct 2020 @ 7.10 am
| Politics

A York MP has joined 50 of his colleagues in warning Boris Johnson that the coronavirus crisis is threatening his pledge to “level-up” the country and could “send the North into reverse”.

Julian Sturdy, MP for York Outer, signed the letter from a group of northern Conservative backbenchers, led by former northern powerhouse minister Jake Berry.

The Northern Research Group (NRG) wants Mr Johnson to set out a “clear road-map” out of lockdown and to develop an economic recovery plan for the North.

They are also urging the Government to prioritise key infrastructure projects and to accelerate job creation in the region.

A North-South divide has emerged with the Government’s coronavirus tier system, as all areas under the strictest restrictions are in the North and Midlands.

The letter says: “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.

“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.”

‘Systemic disadvantage’

Julian Sturdy in the Commons. Photograph: Screengrab

It says the North has seen “a level of disruption unparalleled with other parts of the country” because of the 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.

“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.”

Mr Sturdy has already questioned the criteria used for putting York into the Tier 2 ‘High’ level of restrictions, and tackled the Prime Minister on how it can get out.

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.”