Boris Johnson did not want to give a Downing Street press conference this evening. The Prime Minister had hoped to present his plans for a national lockdown before the House of Commons on Monday. However, after the plans made their way into several of the Saturday papers, the government had to move faster than hoped. The last minute nature of today’s announcement was evidenced by the fact the start time of the conference was pushed back by several hours.
When the presser finally begin, the Prime Minister began by handing over to Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance for a briefing on the latest data. While the graphs they presented drew criticism for lack of clarity, their message was clear: without significant steps taken now the second wave will be much worse than the first, with one forecast suggesting up to 4,000 deaths a day during the winter. The number of graphs presented shows how No. 10 believes the best way to get the public on side is to point to data.
In describing the new restrictions, Johnson referred to an old phrase of his: stay at home. However, this lockdown differs from the last with schools and other educational institutions to stay open and different rules on outdoor mixing. Speaking to the nation, Johnson defended his previous regional approach and reluctance to adopt national measures. Explaining his change of tune, he said: ‘we have to be humble in the face of nature.’ He attempted to strike an optimistic note by saying that a breakthrough in the spring was likely – whether it be rapid testing, drugs or a vaccine.
His toughest audience could be his own party. MPs are angered by the chaotic nature of the past 24 hours and the general approach by Downing Street. While the expectation is that these measures will pass the Commons when they are put to a vote early next week, what remains to be seen is how many Tory MPs rebel. There is a frustration in the parliamentary party that there is no clear exit strategy to avoid repeated lockdowns other than hoping for a breakthrough. Johnson’s performance today did little to suggest otherwise.
MPs are also dubious of the data – there’s a sense that the government only ever shares limited information with them so they rarely get the full picture. However, it’s not all bad news for Downing Street. A number of lockdown sceptic MPs say they will go along with it on the condition lockdown is not extended beyond four weeks while others believe the data does warrant further action. One such MP says that while colleagues are unhappy with how this has played out there is a sense that the party needs to pull together.<//>
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