Katy Balls Katy Balls

The government debate over June 21

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The roadmap out of lockdown is the signature document of Boris Johnson’s new team in No. 10. It’s intended to be cautious, detailed and based on a new mantra of under-promising and over-delivering. It’s meant to strike a contrast with the chaos that came in the early stage of the pandemic by projecting an image of competence and calm.

So far, so good. Each stage — including Monday’s easing — has proceeded as planned. The vaccine rollout has been the fastest in Europe (although the Prime Minister still complains, in private, that it could have gone faster) and is now credited by ministers as a large part of the reason the party made so many gains in the local elections. But with only one stage of the roadmap left, it now risks being derailed by the so-called Indian variant.

Downing Street had hoped to signal next week that the final unlocking of 21 June was on track to go ahead as planned. Preparations were under way for a big bang end to restrictions, and a timetable was being thrashed out for the announcement. But the presence of the Indian variant in parts of the north-west, including Bolton, means that plans have been put on hold. ‘Uncertainty is back — just as we thought we had finally got rid of it,’ laments one government aide.

‘It’s a difficult time to be the opposition.’

As things stand, Johnson is unpersuaded, and thinks some of the gloom has been overdone. But even he now won’t say whether 21 June will go ahead — and the outcome of the government’s social distancing review has been moved from this month to next. Meanwhile, ministers have had to spend the week fielding questions about why it took so long to place India on the travel red list.

A familiar dance is being performed.

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