Ministers are underestimating the British public by refusing to disclose their lockdown exit strategy, senior Conservative MPs have said.
Former ministers and current Tory backbenchers have called for the public to be given greater clarity over the lifting of restrictions, saying that the government’s argument that it would “confuse the message” is incorrect.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said that there was “no argument for not debating and discussing with all the facts available”.
“Other countries have been very open about what they’ve done,” he said. “There are lots and lots of benefits of being open about this. The argument that was put, that we don’t want to confuse the message, I think is just wrong. It underestimates the public. The public understand that there are phases to this.”
Davis also called for the data underpinning the government’s strategy to be made public.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said on Saturday that the government should respect that the British people were “capable of recognising what they need to do in lockdown”.
He said the government needed to “bring the British people into its confidence”, and that the public had “already shown a remarkable level of common sense”.
“[The public] want to know, businesses and small businesses particularly, how will we come out so they can start making plans, and I think it would be right for the government to look at that,” he said, speaking on BBC news.
He also accused the government of treating people “like children” by refusing to discuss exit strategies.
“The government is going to have to accept and admit we are coming out of lockdown. We need to trust the British people and not treat them like children,” he told the Times. “We must respect their common sense. They need to know that the sun is rising at some point, in an economic sense.”
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons defence select committee, said that the best way to ensure public cooperation with the government was to keep people informed. He said a “general road map” spelling out the lockdown measures, but without a timetable of how they would progress, would be “well received” by the nation.
“What we need is strategic clarity as to what happens next, and that’s what I’m calling for,” he said.
“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,” he added.
Ellwood admitted that the prime minister’s absence had been a “real setback” in communication with the public, describing Boris Johnson as “the best communicator in government”.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, also blamed the government’s lack of information on the end of lockdown on Johnson’s absence, a claim which the spokesperson for the prime minister said was “just wrong”.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The government has already set out five clear tests to consider before making any adjustment to its approach.
“At all times we have been consistently guided by scientific advice to protect lives. The current advice from Sage is that relaxing any of the measures could risk damage to public health, our economy, and the sacrifices we have all made.
“Only when the evidence suggests that it is safe to do, and the scientific advice provides for it, will we adjust these measures.”