Covid news: 55 Tory MPs warn Johnson over growing north-south divide as PM insists councils must pay for free school meals

Chiara Giordano,Andy Gregory and Peter Stubley
Hancock refuses to rule out introducing new Tier 4 lockdown restrictions (AFP via Getty Images)
Hancock refuses to rule out introducing new Tier 4 lockdown restrictions (AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has been warned by Tory MPs to keep his promise to “level up” northern England as five more regions confirmed they would enter Tier 3 lockdown.

The prime minister was urged by the group of 55 backbenchers to set out his plan for a way out of lockdown for areas under the most severe restrictions.

It came aafter Mr Johnson told councils they should pay for free school meals using government funding which has already run out, in response to pressure from footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to feed disadvantaged children during the October half-term.

Both Mr Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock pointed to £63m which was made available to councils to help those struggling to afford food during the pandemic – but the scheme began disbursing funds in July.

Meanwhile, Mr Hancock has refused to rule out the prospect of new Tier 4 restrictions in England if the current three-tier system fails to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The health secretary also confirmed on Monday afternoon that Warrington would enter Tier 3 restrictions from Tuesday, while Nottingham and parts of Nottinghamshire will move into Tier 3 from Thursday. It means that more than eight million people, or a seventh of the population of England, will be under the ‘very high’ alert level.