Boris Johnson today urges Britain not to ‘blow it’ in the battle against Covid-19 by flouting the rules of his controversial new three-tier system of restrictions.
The Prime Minister last night attempted to head off a revolt by up to 100 Tory MPs this week by offering a second vote on the tough localised curbs in January, and a ‘sunset clause’ so they automatically expire.
Meanwhile, he uses an exclusive article in today’s Mail on Sunday to plea for people not to ‘jump the fence now’ in a bid to reach ‘the sunlit upland pastures ahead’.
In an allusion to the war film The Great Escape, dramatising attempts to flee a German prisoner-of-war camp, Mr Johnson says that if we do ‘we will simply tangle ourselves in the last barbed wire, with disastrous consequences for the NHS’.
With the mass rollout of the first coronavirus vaccines now expected to start within weeks, Mr Johnson deploys a reference to another war, saying: ‘We will inevitably win, because the armies of science are coming to our aid with all the morale-boosting bugle-blasting excitement of Wellington’s Prussian allies coming through the woods on the afternoon of Waterloo’.
Boris Johnson today urges Britain not to ‘blow it’ in the battle against Covid-19 by flouting the rules of his controversial new three-tier system of restrictions
Many of Mr Johnson’s backbenchers are angry that 99 per cent of England’s population are subject to the most stringent restrictions in tiers 2 and 3, which they argue will prove a disaster for the economy, and especially the battered hospitality industry in the crucial run-up to Christmas.
Last night, in an attempt to buy off the rebels ahead of Tuesday’s vote on the restrictions, Mr Johnson promised to give MPs another vote on January 27, and said that a ‘sunset clause’ would mean that the current rules would automatically expire on February 3. It means the tier system could end in just nine weeks.
Mr Johnson also reiterated that the current measures – which economic experts project will cost the UK £900 million a day – would be reviewed on December 16.
A further 15,871 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK today, marking a 20 per cent drop on the number of cases reported last Saturday
Official figures have also revealed a further 479 coronavirus deaths – a 40 per cent rise on the 341 figure seen last Saturday
Rebels leader Steve Baker, of the Covid Recovery Group, said that he and fellow Tory backbenchers would ‘digest the content’ of Mr Johnson’s offer over the weekend, but called on No 10 to publish a full analysis of the ‘health, economic and social impacts of Covid and the measures taken to suppress them’ .
Mr Baker said the rebels were ‘grateful for the constructive approach being taken by the Prime Minister’, but said: ‘The key thing MPs have been asking for before next week’s vote has not yet been published.’
The moves come as:
- A Deltapoll survey for this newspaper put Labour ahead of the Conservatives, with Sir Keir Starmer’s party on 38 per cent and the Tories on 37 per cent;
- The Government secured an additional 2 million doses of the almost 95 per cent effective Moderna vaccine, which will be available from next spring, bringing the total number of doses the UK now has access to up to 357 million, from seven companies;
- This newspaper learned that staff at London hospitals could start booking their injections of the Pfizer jab from Tuesday, with the first doses available from the following week;
- Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi was appointed as a new ‘vaccine tsar’ to oversee rollout in England, with joint responsibilities between the health department and the business department, where he currently works;
- Police arrested 155 people at anti-lockdown protests in Central London, in which hundreds of demonstrators marched through Westminster chanting ‘shame on you’ and ‘freedom’;
- The number of Covid cases dropped by 20 per cent in a week, with 15,871 new infections recorded in the past 24 hours; but another 479 deaths were also recorded.
Boris uses an exclusive article in today’s Mail on Sunday to plea for people not to ‘jump the fence now’ in a bid to reach ‘the sunlit upland pastures ahead’. Pictured: a busy Borough Market in London today
Why Boris called Britain’s Covid scientists ‘Prussians’
When Boris Johnson compared Britain’s scientists to its Prussian allies at the Battle of Waterloo, he was referring to the decisive role the German troops played in the historic defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Soldiers from the now-dissolved Prussian kingdom did not arrive on the battlefield until late in the afternoon, but entered the fray in such strong numbers that they overwhelmed the French Emperor’s forces.
The Duke of Wellington’s British army of 68,000 men had spent much of the afternoon suppressing waves of attacks from Napoleon’s forces, which numbered about 72,000.
But the tide was turned when 48,000 Prussian soldiers stormed in to attack the French flank, inflicting heavy casualties.
Defeated, Napoleon reportedly rode away from the battlefield in tears and abdicated four days later. Within weeks, British forces marched into Paris. Wellington later said the battle was ‘the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life’.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove had previously moved to quell the rebel Tories. He told the MPs, who include backbench 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, that their failure to back No 10’s policy on Tuesday – the day before tiers are set to be introduced – could lead to every hospital in England being ‘overrun’ with Covid-19 cases.
Backbench anger was fuelled by reports that senior officials plan to ban all indoor socialising until Easter, although in his Mail on Sunday article Mr Johnson says that ‘with the help of these scientific advances we hope to make progress – and to de-escalate – BEFORE Easter’.
Also writing in this newspaper, senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, the powerful chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, criticises the way the tiering regime was devised and implemented.
In a stern warning, he says the isolation of lockdowns has made ‘some people question whether life is worth living’.
Elsewhere in this newspaper, fellow Tory MP Charles Walker says that the arrest of an elderly anti-lockdown protester outside Parliament last week demonstrated a ‘cavalier approach to the trashing of our constituents’ civil liberties’.
The tier system will be reviewed on December 16, with No 10 hopeful that some areas in the most restrictive tier 3 band will then be able to move to tier 2 as a ‘morale booster’.
In his article, Mr Johnson mounts a plea for patience by the British public, saying: ‘We have worked too hard, lost too many, sacrificed too much, just to see our efforts incinerated in another volcanic eruption of the virus’.
But he insists we will soon ‘drive Covid out of our lives’.
We are so nearly out of our captivity, we can see the sunlit upland pastures ahead… but if we try to jump the fence now, we will tangle ourselves in the last barbed wire, writes PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON
We can’t blow it now. We can’t just throw it all away – not when freedom is in sight. We have worked too hard, lost too many, sacrificed too much, just to see our efforts incinerated in another volcanic eruption of the virus.
Once again, the British people have come together to bring Covid under control. Once again, our collective efforts have paid off – and as I write the R rate is once again below one.
Across the country, the disease is no longer doubling in prevalence. It is halving. We did it before, in the spring, and now we have done it again.
But this time it is different. This time we know in our hearts that we are winning, and that we will inevitably win, because the armies of science are coming to our aid with all the morale-boosting, bugle-blasting excitement of Wellington’s Prussian allies coming through the woods on the afternoon of Waterloo.
We have secured 40 million doses of the highly promising Pfizer-Biontech treatment, with millions possibly available by the end of this year, writes Boris Johnson
In months, or even weeks, we will have a viable vaccine against coronavirus – giving elderly and vulnerable people the durable protection they need. And we are not just backing one vaccine, but seven.
We have secured 40 million doses of the highly promising Pfizer-Biontech treatment, with millions possibly available by the end of this year. We have obtained 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that is now going for approval by the regulators at MHRA. And as of yesterday, the Government has bought a total of 7 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which has proved 95 per cent effective in clinical trials.
All told, Kate Bingham and her Vaccines Taskforce have secured early access to more than 350 million doses of vaccine – more than enough to inoculate everyone in the UK, as well as our Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.
The people of Liverpool have come together to do mass community testing, with 240,000 getting tested – including with new rapid turnaround tests, writes Boris Johnson. Pictured: soldiers prepare to swab Liverpudlians at a testing centre in Liverpool on November 6
If and when we can begin delivering those shots in the national arm – beginning with the most vulnerable groups – we will know we have won. And even before we roll out the vaccine, we are equipping ourselves with new and encouraging methods of fighting Covid.
The people of Liverpool have come together to do mass community testing, with 240,000 getting tested – including with new rapid turnaround tests. There is no doubt about it. Thanks in part to strict adherence to the rules, and thanks also to community testing, the rate of infection in Liverpool is now substantially lower than in other comparable cities.
Liverpool is now in tier 2 and not tier 3 – and so we want to use this community testing in other tier 3 areas to achieve the same effect and to identify and isolate the one in three hidden carriers who have the disease but suffer no symptoms.
Soldiers pictured preparing to swab Liverpool residents for coronavirus at Croxteth Sports Centre on November 7
Thanks in part to strict adherence to the rules, and thanks also to community testing, the rate of infection in Liverpool is now substantially lower than in other comparable cities, writes Boris Johnson. Pictured: Two people are pictured being swabbed at St John’s Hall on November 7
We have procured vast supplies of these pregnancy-style tests – hundreds of millions of them by January. We are working with local leaders across tier 3 to do the same mass testing exercises – to squeeze the disease and kick Covid out.
We have seen it work in Slovakia and in Liverpool, and there is no reason why it should not work everywhere.
Indeed, there is every reason to hope that we can use mass testing to help us open all kinds of sectors that have been under the greatest pressure – sports, entertainment, hospitality, aviation, business events – you name it. All this is possible. We can do it and we will do it. But we MUST be realistic.
We know that mass testing can work, but we must accept that as a medical technique it is still in its infancy. To work in towns and cities, let alone regions, it relies on high levels of public buy-in and community spirit.
As for the vaccines, I now have no doubt that they will come, and possibly very soon. But they are not yet here. They are passing all kinds of tests, but none of them has yet been completely approved as fit to be injected in the arms of our parents and grandparents. Even if that great moment is just days away – as it could be – there are still long weeks and months ahead before we can be completely confident that we can vaccinate enough people in the country, and thereby remove enough targets for the virus, in order to beat the disease.
And as of yesterday, the Government has bought a total of 7 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which has proved 95 per cent effective in clinical trials, writes Boris Johnson (file photo)
Those will be the coldest and darkest months of the year, the period in which the NHS is always most vulnerable.
And the brutal truth is that we are entering that winter period with rates of Covid infection still high throughout the country – perhaps one person in 85 – far higher than in September.
We have almost as many Covid patients in our hospitals as we had in the April peak; we have deaths running, alas, at several hundred per day; and with the real prospect of the NHS being unable to cope, we simply cannot let our foot off the throat of the beast. On Wednesday we can and must come out of lockdown, and we will. But we cannot afford to let things rip.
To all those who are in a tier higher than they believe they deserve, and especially to our wonderful hospitality sector, I not only sympathise. I grieve for what we have to do.
We will review the position, and all the data, on December 16, and we will continue to support lives and livelihoods as the Government has done throughout the pandemic, to ensure that businesses have the chance to bounce back ever more strongly next year.
It is worth remembering that the world of this Wednesday is not a lockdown, even in tier 3. You will be able to leave your home for any reason. You can do your Christmas shopping, indeed any type of shopping; visit the gym; have a haircut; play organised sports; take part in communal worship; and meet friends in outside public places subject to the rule of six.
Over the coming weeks, I am convinced we will be able to use these two new scientific tools – mass testing and vaccines – to drive Covid out of our hospitals and schools and homes and out of our lives.
With every substantial reduction in infection, across the country, we will de-escalate restrictions and allow whole areas to come down the tiers. We believe that Easter will mark a real end point and a real chance to return to something like life as normal.
But it is crucial to understand that with the help of these scientific advances we hope to make progress – and to de-escalate – BEFORE Easter.
We are so nearly out of our captivity. We can see the sunlit upland pastures ahead. But if we try to jump the fence now, we will simply tangle ourselves in the last barbed wire, with disastrous consequences for the NHS.
So let’s do the job properly. Let’s work together, and with tiering, testing and vaccines let’s make 2021 the year we kick Covid out, take back control of our lives and reclaim all the things we love.
Sir Keir Starmer takes the lead with MoS poll putting Laboue leader at 38% and Boris Johnson at 37% amid growing fears for the economy and nearly two thirds opposing ‘Save Christmas’ plan
Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has taken the lead over the Conservatives in a Mail on Sunday survey for the first time since March 2019, as Boris Johnson battles the growing party backlash against his Covid tiering system.
A Deltapoll survey for today’s newspaper puts Labour on 38 per cent, with Mr Johnson’s Tories on 37 per cent – the first time the party has scored below 40 per cent in the company’s polls since last year’s General Election.
It comes as Sir Keir spends the weekend discussing his strategy with aides for Tuesday’s crunch Commons vote on the tiers. Mr Johnson yesterday tried to placate more than 70 Tory MPs threatening to rebel by offering them a chance to vote down the rules in January but he could be forced to rely on Labour for Tuesday’s vote to pass.
Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has taken the lead over the Conservatives in a Mail on Sunday survey for the first time since March 2019
The poll also suggests that the growing economic impact of the pandemic is finally starting to register with voters as a problem as bad or worse than the threat to health posed by the virus.
After last week’s Spending Review, in which Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out the eye-watering £394billion borrowing bill for the crisis and a projected fall in GDP of more than 11 per cent, a total of 57 per cent think the economic impact of Covid-19 is the biggest problem facing this country in the next five years, compared with 36 per cent who rate the impact on health as the most significant issue.
When asked about the level of Government borrowing to pay for Covid, 71 per cent were worried about it, with just 18 per cent saying they were not concerned.
Most respondents, 53 per cent, expect the general economic situation in this country to deteriorate over the next 12 months, and 29 per cent believe their household finances will decline over the same period.
A Deltapoll survey for today’s newspaper puts Labour on 38 per cent, with Mr Johnson’s Tories on 37 per cent – the first time the party has scored below 40 per cent in the company’s polls since last year’s General Election
Among those who anticipate the economy will get worse, more than three quarters expect it to take at least three years to recover, while more than half, 54 per cent, think it will take more than five years.
The dawning realisation of the likely final costs also appears to have taken some of the shine off Mr Sunak’s soaring ratings. The Chancellor’s net approval has dropped by seven points to 24 per cent, while Mr Johnson’s is effectively static.
No 10’s plan to let families meet for five days at Christmas in England gets a thumbs-down from the public as well as the Government’s scientific advisers, who warn it could lead to a spike in cases and a harsher lockdown to start 2021.
Only 27 per cent back lifting the restrictions, while 64 per cent are opposed – suggesting many secretly hoped for a state-sanctioned excuse to avoid the in-laws. The bleak mood is reflected in the fact that 49 per cent expect Christmas to be worse than last year. The rise in Labour’s ratings will be seen as a vindication of Sir Keir’s low-key strategy, described by one party source as ‘sitting back and watching the Tories f*** it up’.
Sir Keir has also effected a break with the media tactics of Jeremy Corbyn by engaging with Right-leaning newspapers and agreeing to projects such as his well-received appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs this month.
Deltapoll director Joe Twyman said: ‘With the national lockdown about to come to an end in England, the Conservatives find themselves trailing Labour in the polls and concern over the economic situation in this country growing. The pessimism shared by so many in Britain when it comes to the economy is likely to make those in Downing Street anxious. As the pandemic continues, the deteriorating position for the Government will provide ammunition for opponents to Boris Johnson’s approach.’
- Deltapoll interviewed 1,525 adults online between November 26 and yesterday – results were weighted to be representative of the adult population as a whole.
Michael Gove was told 500,000 could lose jobs if he got his wish to shut London in fraught Cabinet meeting to discuss the new tiering system
As the fraught meeting to discuss the new tiering system drew to a close at 8.16pm on Wednesday, Boris Johnson essayed one of his cod Churchillian riffs – combined with an upbeat sporting reference.
‘This is the beginning of the end,’ said the Prime Minister, referencing the hope offered by the imminent vaccines, before adding slightly less hopefully: ‘Or maybe the beginning of the second half’.
The ten-strong, hour-long Zoom meeting had just finished carving up the country into the new post-lockdown regimes, placing 99 per cent of the population under the tightest two tiers – a move that would trigger open revolt among Tory backbenchers.
Mr Gove, pictured, has led calls for London to be subject to Tier 3 lockdown restrictions
Leading the charge for shutdown was Michael Gove, who has grown in to such an evangelist for crippling lockdowns that some of his more conspiratorially-minded colleagues even wonder if the ambitious Cabinet Office Minister is trying to dynamite Mr Johnson’s Government from within.
Mr Johnson ‘looked askance’, one source said, as Mr Gove called for London to be subject to the most severe, tier 3 restrictions, despite the savage impact it would have on the capital’s economy. ‘Michael didn’t muck about,’ said the source. ‘He referred to the pressure on wards in areas such as Redbridge and said, “We need tier 3 for the whole of London, without doubt. We want to save lives”.’
Mr Gove’s pro-lockdown polemic came despite a Government briefing note prepared for the meeting which projected the possible loss of 550,000 jobs if London was put into tier 3, compared to 50,000 for tier 2.
Mr Johnson ‘looked askance’, one source said, as Mr Gove called for London to be subject to the most severe, tier 3 restrictions, despite the savage impact it would have on the capital’s economy. Pictured: Mr Johnson in Parliament on November 26
Mr Gove’s fellow Covid-cautious dove, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, gave a more nuanced overview. In the capital, he suggested that the boroughs with the sharpest spike in cases – including Redbridge in the East – could be sectioned off and placed in tier 3, with the rest of London put into tier 2.
The concept of a partial tiering was opposed by Treasury Minister John Glen, standing in for Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who pointed out that the latest data pointed to a drop in infections, and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, who argued against the sub-division of local authority areas.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma made the economic case against tier 3 in the capital, while Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden argued for tier 2 across London, but with additional help for hospitals in the worst affected areas.
Mr Gove’s pro-lockdown polemic came despite a Government briefing note prepared for the meeting which projected the possible loss of 550,000 jobs if London was put into tier 3, compared to 50,000 for tier 2.
At that point the Prime Minister took charge of the meeting again, and made clear that he was dismissing Mr Gove’s arguments following a report from the Office for Budget Responsibility which outlined how borrowing was set to reach £394 billion as the economy shrinks by 11.3 per cent.
Mr Johnson said: ‘I have listened very carefully to what Michael said but I am persuaded we have to think about the overall situation with respect to what the OBR went through today on the economy. Things will be reviewed regularly but I am satisfied that we should put London in tier 2’.
He concluded with a flourish: ‘Does anyone violently disagree with me? Well, I don’t suppose it matters if you do. Well, that’s what I think.’
Businesses have been struggling since the pandemic and closed retailers do their best to promote Black Friday and Christmas sales
A source said: ‘The evolution of Michael’s thinking is fascinating and perplexing. At the start of the crisis, no one could work out if he was a hawk or a dove, or a hawk camouflaged as a dove. Then he seemed to grow increasingly worried about the optics for a Tory Government having to deal with an overwhelmed NHS – particularly if it coincided with a no-deal Brexit – and so started offering increasing support to Hancock in key meetings.
‘Now he is the biggest dove of the lot, to the dismay of the Treasury. If he had succeeded in shutting London we could have kissed goodbye to half a million jobs.’
Mr Gove’s spokesman last night declined to comment on ‘private Cabinet committee discussions’.