© Provided by The GuardianPhotograph: Victoria Jones/PA
Boris Johnson's position as prime minister could be under threat if the coronavirus lockdown in England lasts into late spring, a backbench Conservative MP has warned.
In a message to fellow Tories in the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), which comprises around 70 MPs who are wary of lockdown measures, Steve Baker urged colleagues to stress their concerns.
He told fellow MPs it was "imperative you equip the chief whip today with your opinion that debate will become about the PM's leadership if the government does not set out a clear plan for when our full freedoms will be restored, with a guarantee that this strategy will not be used again next winter."
Baker, the deputy chair of the CRG, wrote: "Certain government scientists have said that the current lockdown could last until late spring. There is no reason to think there will be any real resistance in cabinet to the argument for greater and longer and more draconian restrictions on the public.
"This could be a disaster. Nothing seems more certain to break the public than giving hope before taking it away, and doing it repeatedly."
He said the government "has adopted a strategy devoid of any commitment to liberty without any clarification about when our most basic freedoms will be restored and with no guarantee that they will never be taken away again".
He added: "People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative party leadership because they are not standing up for our values as a party. If we continue forward with a strategy that hammers freedom, hammers the private sector, hammers small business owners and hammers the poor, inevitably the prime minister's leadership will be on the table: we strongly do not want that after all we have been through as a country."
The CRG was formed to coalesce opinion on the Tory backbenches connected to emphasising the negative effects of lockdown, with a number of members voting against previous restrictions for England.
The CRG was broadly supportive of the current lockdown, given the emergence of the new, more transmissible Covid variant and the extreme pressures on NHS hospitals. However, the issue is felt extremely keenly by some Tories, with reports last week that two MPs had submitted letters to the 1922 Committee, which represents backbench Tories, seeking Johnson's departure.
Triggering a leadership contest would require at least 15% of Tory MPs - around 55 - to send in letters.
In a CRG statement following the imposition of the current lockdown, the group's chair, the former chief whip Mark Harper, praised the Covid vaccination programme but said the government should set out how this "begins to translate into a return to normal life for us all and show a clear exit strategy - a route back to freedom".
Despite the message, Baker later tweeted his complete support for Johnson to remain as prime minister. He wrote: "What this country needs is the complete success of Boris Johnson, with his excellent EU deal, a successful vaccination programme and a #Road2Recovery back to freedom. I am clear Boris is the only person to lead us out of these difficulties and I support him in that endeavour." © Photograph: Victoria Jones/PASteve Baker said the government's Covid strategy was 'devoid of any commitment to liberty'.