Boris Johnson will hold a press conference later this afternoon to discuss the new local restrictions — and how they’ll work. Even if he wanted to do a national circuit-breaker lockdown it is now almost politically impossible for him to do so given that Keir Starmer has now called for it, I say in the Times today. One cabinet minister who knows the Tory parliamentary party better than most warns: 'If they do it after all this, they’ll be in absolutely the worst possible place.'
Rejecting the idea of what would, in effect, be a second national lockdown has both buoyed Johnson and begun to reduce the distance between him and his parliamentary party. Arguing against shutting pubs and restaurants in areas with low Covid rates fits with his natural Merrie England conservatism, which has been forced into abeyance by the crisis.
But ministers who favour a hardline approach are arguing that the corollary to no nationwide circuit break is that local restrictions must be much tighter. One of them says that ruling out the proposal from the scientists on Sage — which Starmer threw his weight behind this week — 'gives us permission to do much stricter local lockdowns'. I understand that the idea of closing everything but schools in the worst-hit areas is rapidly gaining traction in Whitehall.
These localised restrictions will bring their own problems. There will be resentment at some places living under restrictions similar to the first lockdown, while life is close to normal in others. One of those involved in deciding on the tiers warns: 'It will be very different to March. That community spirit has just gone.'