Furious Tory MPs lashed out at Boris Johnson today as the Prime Minister prepares to delay Freedom Day and the end of lockdown for four weeks.
The Prime Minister will urge Britons to be patient as he announces that the relaxation of Covid restrictions will be pushed back until July 19 because of the rampaging Indian variant, to allow more people to receive their second vaccine dose.
But he is set to offer an olive branch to some industries that will be worst-hit by the delay, including lifting the cap on the number of guests who can attend weddings. He is also expected to permit more outdoor seated spaces at sporting events.
The concessions come as Tory MPs join hospitality and other business leaders in venting their fury at the postponement, warning it will cost firms millions of pounds.
The Prime Minister faced calls for a ‘break clause’ to cut short the lockdown extension after two or three weeks’ if the data allows it.
Health Minister Edward Argar refused to confirm the delay this morning, with the Prime Minister due to face the nation at 6pm tonight. But he defended the concept of a delay, saying it would massively boost vaccine numbers – with data showing that most of the most serious Indian variant cases have involved people who have not been jabbed.
‘Were there to be a delay, were that to be what the Prime Minister announces, we will see what he says and he will make a judgment if he were to delay it on how long by,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
‘If we are going at a run rate of about 250,000 to 300,000 second jabs being done each day, a month gives you roughly that 10 million, which closes the gap… 10 million you have got to do to get from 29 million to 40 million, so that all 40 million have had their second jabs.’
New analysis by Public Health England (PHE) has revealed that 29 per cent of Covid deaths from the B.1.617.2 Indian strain had received two injections. And, in a further blow, the PHE report suggests the Delta variant has a 64 per cent increased risk of household transmission compared to the Kent (Alpha) variant.
However, some hardline anti-lockdown Tories are furious about any delay at all, as they wanted the lifting of lockdown to be faster that it has been.
Former minister Steve Baker channelled classic war film The Great Escape in a message to Covid Recovery Group MPs last night, according to Politico, saying: ‘It is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape.
‘If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.’
And theatre impresario Sir Howard Panter warned the industry will suffer ‘significant damage’ if the final lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England is put on hold.
In other developments:
- It emerged that ministers will lift the cap on the number of people who can attend weddings from 30, but scientists were warning against scrapping the cap completely;
- Treasury sources said there were no plans to tweak the furlough scheme, despite the fact employers will have to start making bigger contributions next month;
- Latest figures revealed that Covid infections are averaging more than 7,000 a day – up by 50 per cent in a week, although hospitalisations and deaths remain low;
- Andrew Lloyd Webber said a delay to the exit roadmap risked bankrupting the entire arts industry;
- Ministers are expected to open the door to the use of so-called ‘Covid passports’ for big events, but will not make them compulsory.
Boris Johnson (pictured today) is tonight set to delay Freedom Day by a month – to the fury of business leaders and Tory MPs
Health Minister Edward Argar defended the concept of a delay, saying it would massively boost vaccine numbers – with data showing that most of the most serious Indian variant cases have involved people who have not been jabbed.
Former minister Steve Baker channelled classic war film The Great Escape in a message to Covid Recovery Group MPs last night, according to Politico, saying: ‘It is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape.’ And Conservative MP Damian Green has told the Westminster Hour that there should be a break clause after two or three weeks of the extension.
Are these the numbers scaring Boris?
Almost a third of the 42 Britons who have so far died from the Indian (Delta) Covid had been double jabbed, a new report has revealed.
With the Prime Minister on the verge of delaying ‘Freedom Day’ by up to four weeks, new analysis by Public Health England (PHE) has revealed that 29 per cent of Covid deaths from the B.1.617.2 strain had received two injections.
And, in a further blow, the PHE report suggests the Delta variant has a 64 per cent increased risk of household transmission compared to the Kent (Alpha) variant.
It is also believed to be 40 per cent more transmissible outdoors, according to the PHE figures.
The Delta strain is now the UK’s most dominant, with more than 90 per cent of Covid cases in the UK now the Indian variant, according to PHE.
Amid rising case numbers, the new report has raised fears among some scientists that the UK could be swamped with a third Covid wave.
It comes as analysis by the Sunday Telegraph shows that, at the current rate, the UK could have 80,000 new cases a day by mid-July.
Such a figure would smash even January’s peak – where almost 70,000 cases were recorded in one day.
Conservative MP Damian Green has told the Westminster Hour that there should be a break clause after two or three weeks of the extension.
‘I get the point that because of the deltas variant the cases have gone up, hospitalisation has gone up a bit but not a lot and is below the level of some of the Sage predictions of a few months ago,’ he said.
‘So I think if there is a delay I hope it’s only for a few weeks and I think if it is as long as a month then there should be a break clause after two or maybe three weeks, to say that if we can tell by then that the rise in cases is not lading to a sort of rise in the serious illness that sends people into hospital, then we can unlock earlier.’
Ignoring a mounting revolt by Tory MPs and dire warnings from the hospitality and theatre industries, Mr Johnson will argue that scrapping all restrictions now is likely to fuel the surge – and the public needs to be ‘patient’ so the country does not go into reverse.
The PM will use a Downing Street press conference tonight to outline a delay in the relaxation of restrictions in an attempt to push forward with the vaccination effort.
A government source told The Times Mr Johnson considers it the ‘final stretch’ to extend the protection of the jabs as far as possible before normality can return.
Mr Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock signed off on the four-week delay, it was reported.
A senior UK government source told The Telegraph the message had always been ‘cautious but irreversible’, adding: ‘That has been our mantra throughout and that continues.
‘It would be far worse to have uncertainty and go backwards. It is better to be cautious and have certainty. It is one last heave. It is a straight race between the vaccine and the virus.’
Mr Johnson is expected to put the delay to the vote later this month. While it is likely to pass easily with opposition support, he faces a sizable Tory rebellion that will show the dept of anger on his own backbenches.
What will stay and go on June 21?
Boris Johnson’s widely anticipated four-week delay to Freedom Day means that only a few tweaks will be made to the lockdown.
The Prime Minister will lead a press conference at 6pm to announce what will happen in a week’s time on June 21.
The measures are believed to include:
- Keep restrictions in pubs that force them to operate table service only, with no queuing at the bar
- Social distancing rules, including the wearing of masks indoors and on public transport, remain
- Working from home guidance remains in place
- Theatres limited to 50 per cent capacity
- Nightclubs remain closed
- Some increased capacity for sports events outdoors
- Weddings no longer limited to 30 attendees. They will be allowed to go ahead with as many guests as can be held by the venue under social distancing rules
Conservative MP Peter Bone said a delay to the lifting of restrictions should not happen ‘without really good reason’ and that currently he ‘can’t see the evidence why we should be postponing our freedom’.
Asked if he would vote against a delay if put to a vote in Parliament, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘What I would do is listen to what the Prime Minister says, listen to the arguments, and if I’m not convinced that these restrictions are necessary then I would of course vote against it and I hope every member of the House of Commons will listen to the argument and make their minds up.
‘There has to be a vote in the House of Commons. This can’t be decided by a few ministers sitting behind closed doors. It has to be an open and transparent decision.’
He said there should only be restrictions ‘if there is a very clear danger to society’.
Sir Keir Starmer has blamed the Government’s ‘pathetic’ border policy for the delay.
The Labour leader made the comments in response to threats from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to open his theatres to a full house on June 21 regardless of lockdown rules.
Speaking to LBC, Sir Keir said: ‘June 21 was supposed to be ”Freedom Day”, and why are we not going to hit it? It looks like we’re not because of the Government’s pathetic borders policy.’
Sir Keir criticised the Government for delays to introducing hotel quarantine, the confusing traffic light system for foreign travel, and the decision to delay putting India on the red list until late April.
‘The net result of (the Prime Minister’s) pathetic approach is that we’re going to have four weeks more of this.’
When pressed on Lord Lloyd Webber’s claims he is ready to be arrested if theatres cannot legally reopen, Sir Keir said: ‘I have to tell him to obey the rules and obey the law, of course I do. But I do understand the frustration.’
Early morning sun seekers pitching up on West Wittering Beach in West Sussex, on what is predicted to be the hottest day ion the year so far today
England supporters gathered at venues including the Boxpark in Croydon, south London, to watch England beat Croatia 1-0 in their opening Euro 2020 game yesterday
Sir Howard, co-founder of theatre operator Trafalgar Entertainment, said theatre producers had ‘mobilised a whole industry’ on the condition they would be able to reopen on June 21.
The 72-year-old said: ‘The reality is we have marched the troops up the hill.
‘We have mobilised a whole industry in order to get going because we have been keeping the industry going for the last 15 months.
‘It costs money. We haven’t had Government help. We have kept it going. And now, surprise, surprise, the industry needs some income.
‘People need work. Thousands of people have been mobilised in order to work in the theatre industry, to start work from next Monday and now we are being told, apparently: ”Oh no, it’s not that date. It may be some other date, we don’t really know”.
‘The ramifications for the theatre industry are extremely serious. But also the ramifications for all the industries which frankly work with and collaborate with the theatre – restaurants, hotels, hospitality, transport, taxis.’
However scientists backed the idea of a month-long delay.
Former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ‘it buys time if we prolong the current state of social distancing’.
He added: ‘It is a race between the vaccination and virus, and another four weeks makes a significant difference,
‘But I think it also will help us to really establish the extent to which the vaccination breaks or weakens the link between getting infection and getting the sort of serious effects of ending up in hospital, or potentially dying.
‘Also, we’ll get a lot more information – we’ll see what’s happening with hospital admissions, which, of course, lag infections.’
Bosses aren’t banking on a return to the office
Major City firms face having to scupper their plans to bring employees back to the office if Freedom Day is pushed back beyond June 21.
Banks including NatWest, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan had told staff to prepare to start commuting again from next Monday, when restrictions on social distancing are due to be lifted.
But some are considering pushing this back as far as September if there are delays to the lockdown roadmap, which allows workers to sit next to one another again and fill offices up to pre-pandemic levels.
One bank executive involved in the process of bringing colleagues back to the office told the Financial Times: ‘A lot of work has gone into preparing for more staff returning to the office from June.
‘If the dates get pushed back after late June, there is a feeling among most banks that we may as well push our own return dates back to September.’
Some UK banks, including HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds, have not set hard dates for workers to return to their desks, although all say they are following Government guidance.
But the American investment banks JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have taken a much harder line and insist that employees have to be in the office in order to do their jobs properly.
German banking giant Deutsche Bank had told staff to prepare for a slow return from June 21.
It has also been less open to the idea of flexible working, in which staff work from home for part of the week. British groups such as NatWest, on the other hand, have backed it.
The lender has said just 13 per cent of staff will be in the office full time, with around a third based at home and the remainder switching between the two.
Professor Linda Bauld, from the University of Edinburgh, told LBC that the variant first identified in India now accounted for the majority of UK cases, but the death rate among people with this infection was low.
‘You can see amongst people who were infected with this variant, the mortality rate was 0.7%, just 12 people,’ she said.
‘We think they are all the people who had underlying health conditions and died with Covid, not from Covid necessarily.
‘So the proportion of people in hospital now is half of what it was, if we were in the previous situation in 2020 and 2021.’
She added: ‘We have weakened that link between infections and hospitalisations and death but we haven’t broken it.
‘And I think we can break it or certainly have it at a much higher level, if more people have both doses.’
Ministers were told that the four-week delay would likely prevent thousands of hospital admissions amid the rising Delta (Indian) variant – which is of particular concern to health officials over fears it partially evades vaccines.
A surge in the next few weeks would damage the NHS, as emergency departments have warned they are struggling with significant demand at the moment, The Guardian reports.
The PM has previously said that the end of restrictions must be ‘irreversible’.
One government source said restrictions could no longer be justified once over-50s had been vaccinated, adding: ‘The Prime Minister sees this as the final stretch and wants people to be patient. We are nearly there, it’s one last haul.’
Yesterday, millions of Britons put aside fears of a delay and headed out to cheer on the England football team during their Euro 2020 win over Croatia. On one of the hottest days of the year, beaches and parks were packed.
A Whitehall source said last night the Prime Minister was ‘determined’ to present a new exit plan ‘so this doesn’t just drag on’.
This is likely to involve a fresh drive to accelerate the rate of second jabs, which are seen as vital to halting the spread of the new variant.
The source said: ‘It may be better to pause things rather than risk getting into a position where if things get prickly we have to go into reverse. But the PM is very clear that it cannot be indefinite.’
It comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said at the weekend that he could not give an ‘absolute guarantee’ that social distancing measures would be lifted by the end of August – prompting fears restrictions could roll on into the autumn.
Mr Johnson is facing a MPs’ revolt over the move to delay the final step of his lockdown-easing roadmap.
Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said a delay to Freedom Day would be ‘devastating for business confidence, people’s livelihoods and wellbeing’.
The Prime Minister is expected to confirm that the June 21 Freedom Day will be pushed back to July 19 following a sharp rise in cases of the Indian variant. Pictured: The beach in Bournemouth was packed on Sunday
Thousands of football fans piled into venues in London and elsewhere around the country this afternoon to watch England kick off their Euro 2020 campaign with a victory against Croatia at Wembley stadium
It comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said at the weekend that he could not give an ‘absolute guarantee’ that social distancing measures would be lifted by the end of August – prompting fears restrictions could roll on into the autumn
He added: ‘Delaying June 21 will send a clear message to employers and workers that when Covid cases increase this (and every) autumn and winter, they cannot rely on the Government to keep our society open.
‘It would be catastrophic for many businesses currently on life support.’
Douglas McWilliams, of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said the delay was ‘a kick in the teeth’ for sectors such as hospitality.
He said firms had spent ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’ preparing for the relaxation of social distancing rules.
Mr Johnson spent last night thrashing out details of the new exit plan at a crunch meeting with senior ministers and advisers.
He was joined by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, chief medical officer Chris Whitty, and chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance.
Whitehall sources said the PM had been persuaded by scientists to sanction a delay.
Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of a sub-group of the Government’s expert Sage committee, said Britain was facing a ‘substantial third wave’ of infections.
Asked whether the next round of reopening should go ahead, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘If you are driving down a road and coming to a bend, and you’re not quite sure what’s round that bend, you don’t put your foot on the accelerator.’
Scientists fear that although two doses of Covid vaccine provide good defence against the Indian variant, one gives only limited protection.
The Government’s target for giving all adults their first dose is not until the end of July, with second doses being given eight to 12 weeks later.
Mr Johnson refused to say what proportion of the public will have to be fully vaccinated before a full reopening can go ahead, although sources suggested he will set out more detail tonight.
Business groups including the British Chamber of Commerce yesterday urged the Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured) to delay the wind down if lockdown is extended
Furlough will NOT be extended: Rishi Sunak rejects pleas from businesses and says help scheme will begin to be phased out from July 1 – even though Freedom Day is postponed past that
Unvaccinated British travellers to Ireland facing longer quarantine
Unvaccinated holidaymakers travelling from the UK to Ireland may face a longer self-quarantine period, it was reported last night.
It comes as the Irish department of health confirmed a further 315 new cases of Covid-19, with 22 patients in intensive care.
It is considering a longer self-isolation period for non-vaccinated UK passengers, following fears of the Indian variant spreading in the republic.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said there would be ‘some changes [to rules on quarantine and travel] to reflect the concern and the danger that the variant represents’. Currently, anyone arriving from Britain must quarantine from home for five days if they get a second negative PCR test.
Mr Coveney told RTE’s This Week: ‘We want to try to get the balance right between protecting the Common Travel Area with the UK as best we can, because it is very important, and the very real and strong public health evidence.’
The Indian variant is now the dominant strain in Britain – accounting for 90 per cent of cases – and it is being closely monitored by Public Health England.
by JOHN STEVENS, Political Editor, for the Daily Mail
The hugely expensive wage support fund is due to start being wound down at the end of this month.
As part of the Budget earlier this year, the Chancellor announced he would stop covering 80 per cent of the salaries of those not at work.
From July 1, the Government’s share will fall to 70 per cent with employers contributing 10 per cent, as part of a staged withdrawal of the scheme due to finish completely at the end of September.
Business groups including the British Chamber of Commerce yesterday urged the Chancellor to delay the wind down if lockdown is extended, while hospitality chiefs claimed as many as 200,000 jobs were at risk.
But sources close to Mr Sunak insisted the timetable for gradually withdrawing furlough would remain the same.
They said that by extending support to the end of September the Treasury had already ‘gone long’ in case there was any delay to reopening. Mr Sunak is also resisting calls to extend the business rates holiday that is also due to start being withdrawn at the end of the month.
Retail, hospitality and leisure premises have been helped with a 100 per cent relief since last March when the lockdowns first began. The Government is due to reduce the relief to 66 per cent from July 1 and it will remain in place until the end of March next year.
Trade body UKHospitality has called for Mr Sunak to keep the full relief in place for a further three months until the start of October.
Chief executive Kate Nicholls said yesterday: ‘We recognise that the Chancellor has provided long-term support for the sector which extends into the recovery period, but there is no doubt that any extension to the restrictions will be challenging for sectors yet to open and those still trading at a loss to navigate.’
She added: ‘Among other measures, the Government must postpone business rates payments until at least October and extend the rent moratorium while a long-term solution is found.
‘Businesses need a swift, publicly-stated commitment that such support will be in place in the event of any delays, giving them much-needed reassurance after more than 15 months of closure and severely disrupted trading.
‘Hospitality is desperate to get back to what it does best and can play a key role in the economic recovery of the UK – but only if it is given the proper support.’
Most recent figures showed there were 3.4million jobs on furlough at the end of April, which was 900,000 lower than the month before. Since the start of the scheme last March, a total of 11.5million jobs have been supported by furlough at some point at a cost of £64billion.