Sunak has ‘no regrets’ over Eat Out to Help Out after Covid spike claims

The Chancellor is due to address the virtual Conservative Party conference on Monday.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has defended his Eat Out to Help Out scheme after the Prime Minister suggested it may have helped fuel the second wave of coronavirus cases.

Speaking before his speech on Monday at the virtual Conservative Party conference, Mr Sunak also pushed back on the idea of further lockdowns – comments that come on the back of Boris Johnson warning of a “tough winter” ahead.

Mr Sunak was dubbed Dishi Rishi after unveiling his August scheme of subsidised meals out to help a pub and restaurant sector badly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasury figures show more than 100 million meals were eaten under the scheme, which gave diners a 50% state-backed discount, up to a maximum of £10, on meals every Monday to Wednesday.

Mr Johnson told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show the Treasury incentive “may have helped to spread the virus” and that its impact needed to be counteracted, with the country facing a second surge in positive Covid-19 cases.

But Mr Sunak, in comments made to The Sun before day three of the party conference, said the success of the initiative had helped prop-up two million jobs and that he had no regrets about paying for it.

“No, definitely not,” Mr Sunak is reported to have said when asked if he held any regrets.

“We had an industry that I care deeply about because of employment.

“It’s over two million people.”

Johnson Marr
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of a ‘tough winter’ in an interview on Sunday (Victoria Jones/PA)

According to the report, the former local government minister pointed to the low rate of second-wave Covid infections in the South West, a region he claimed made the most use of the scheme, as evidence that the hospitality drive had not had an adverse health effect.

The non-drinker also expressed sympathy over public anger at the 10pm pub curfew brought in as an attempt to curb infections.

“Everyone is very frustrated and exhausted and tired about all of this,” he told the paper.

With a series of local lockdowns in place across the country, including in Merseyside, Greater Manchester and the North East of England, a third of the UK population is now living under heightened social restrictions.

Brady lockdowns
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, has been one of the most vocal critics of local lockdowns (Victoria Jones/PA)

But Mr Sunak – who praised Mr Johnson’s leadership during the pandemic – sent a warning about any future move that would see the economy shut down again.

It comes as Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, said patience was starting to “wear thin” with local lockdowns.

Sir Graham told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “When you start to get to speculation about a second lockdown or all of these regional things … I think patience really does start to wear thin and I can understand that.”

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