Boris Johnson has tonight addressed the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers over the government's roadmap for ending lockdown. The Prime Minister told MPs that a third wave of coronavirus reaching the UK from Europe was 'inevitable'. However, he insisted that the UK had built up resources to deal with any such threat and the country's roadmap for ending the lockdown remained on track.
Discussing recent criticism of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Johnson defended the jab, pointing out that it was produced at cost. He told MPs he had 'nothing against big Pharma' or big farmers – this was a reference to the Chief Whip and Nottinghamshire farmer, Mark Spencer, who was sitting beside him. He also put the success of the vaccine rollout down to 'greed' and 'capitalism'. Before hastily retracting his comments – and telling MPs to forget what he said. Government aides have since sought to play down his comments – insisting it was a joke rather than a suggestion the UK had been greedy on vaccines.
More on message was the Prime Minister's suggestion that there would be no export bans from the UK relating to vaccines. In terms of the challenges ahead, Johnson said that while things on the medical front were improving, the political situation was getting more difficult. He said the local elections would be hard as the last time many of these races occurred, the Tories were far ahead. There was some bemusement on the call when one MP asked whether parts of the Home Office could move to Stoke-on-Trent. Johnson told Jonathan Gullis he would not be able to sign anything off tonight.
In terms of the tension points in the session, there were two questions that set the cat among the pigeons with MPs. The first was a question on whether the Prime Minister could guarantee shops will open as planned on April 12 and stay that way. Johnson said he was sticking to the script and these dates were simply the earliest point such relaxations would occur. Finally, Mark Harper asked whether the timetable could go faster. He urged the Prime Minister not to stick to the script and instead explain whether the government would be data driven on dates. Johnson's reply was viewed as frosty by attendees. He said the 'public will trade haste for certainty'.