Boris Johnson on Monday faced a wave of cabinet protests over new Covid-19 restrictions in the UK, forcing him to shelve decisions on a potential “circuit breaker” after Christmas. until the ministers have new data.
The British Prime Minister said he would not “hesit” to introduce restrictions if necessary to combat the spread of Omicron, despite the deadlock between ministers over whether, how and when to act.
The cabinet will meet again this week and more data on the severity of the new variant is expected on Wednesday. “We have no plans to introduce new restrictions this Christmas,” said a senior government insider.
Rishi Sunak, the contest’s chancellor, has led opposition to the new Covid restrictions in the UK, which could include limits on social mixing and changes to the rules for pubs and restaurants, before ministers had a chance to see the new data.
Sunak is planning to help the hospitality sector after it suffered a slump in bookings and is poised to go further if Covid data supports the case for new post-Christmas social restrictions.
A brief cabinet speaker said: “Rishi is not saying we cannot have more restrictions, but he is saying we should wait until we know more about the severity of Omicron before We make decisions that could have billions of pounds of consequences.”
The UK recorded another 91,743 daily Covid cases on Monday as hospital admissions surged in London. It also broke the daily vaccination record with more than 1 million injections reported on Saturday, including another 940,606 boosters.
After a two-hour cabinet meeting that one minister described as “frank”, Johnson said the data would be kept “in the process of ongoing review”. A Downing Street post-cabinet press conference, scheduled by Number 10, was cancelled, suggesting the meeting was deadlocked.
The meeting exposed divisions over how to deal with the Omicron and Johnson faltering, with a seasoned Tory observer suggesting the prime minister had “lost control of the cabinet”. Lord David Frost, former Brexit secretary who off work on saturday, criticized Johnson’s “coercive” Covid policies.
Many ministers expressed doubts about the new measures, including Sunak, Liz Truss, foreign minister; Transportation Secretary Grant Shapes; and Steve Barclay, Cabinet Office Secretary.
Supporters of further restrictions include Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, who has warned that the country is facing a “tsunami” of Omicron infections, and Michael Gove, the upgrade secretary.
“The arguments are well balanced either way because we have a strong increase in Omicron cases across the country right now. We’ve had a pretty sharp increase in hospital admissions in London,” Johnson said.
“We’re looking at everything to keep Omicron under control and we won’t rule anything out, but for now what I think we want everyone to focus on is exercising caution.”
Cabinet ministers said Johnson concluded there was “not enough data” to make a decision on restrictions. One said he “didn’t want to give in to the story of terrorism without the full picture”.
Ahead of the meeting, senior Whitehall officials said there was growing expectation that further restrictions would be introduced next week, most likely for indoor gatherings, reflecting the restrictions The “step two” seen in April included the closure of pubs and restaurants for indoor service.
But ministers said they were watching closely to see if people were “self-restricting” after being told to exercise caution. “Maybe we don’t need to act if people continue to implement their own restrictions. But [if] they eased their caution after Christmas, when we might have no other choice.”
Sunak was criticized by Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor for her “unwillingness” to help the UK economy, while the government “condemns many businesses and workers having a nervous and difficult Christmas”.
Meanwhile, Johnson defended a photograph taken in May 2020 of a Downing Street garden gathering showing officials drinking wine, which may have circumvented coronavirus restrictions. “It’s the meetings of people at work, talking about work,” he said.
https://www.ft.com/content/ebba9620-eb98-46ba-a474-1114c0b7cb29 Boris Johnson cabinet split over new Covid restrictions in UK