James Forsyth

Johnson lays out the lockdown exit strategy

(Photo by Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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Boris Johnson’s statement to the House of Commons this afternoon was a reminder of how much more difficult this second lockdown will be politically for the government. Before he could begin, he had to sit through the Speaker ticking the government off for the fact that news of the lockdown had leaked to the media on Friday night.

Johnson’s statement was very similar to what he had said at Saturday’s press conference. But at the end, he was clearer about what the government’s exit strategy was. He said that its plan was to use mass testing to stay on top of the virus once this England-wide lockdown has ended. Now, given that test and trace was meant to help prevent a second lockdown, there is understandable scepticism about this plan. But it is clear that mass testing is what the government is relying on to prevent a third lockdown, something that would see the patience of Tory MPs’ snap.

Keir Starmer’s attack on the government was predictable but no less effective for that. He said that if Johnson had gone for a lockdown earlier, it would have been shorter and more effective. I suspect that this Labour attack line will run all the way up to the next election.

The Tory rebellion against these measures on Wednesday night is not going to be as large as some are speculating. But the questions from the Tory benches were largely sceptical. Given this, it seemed strange that Boris Johnson was so dismissive of Liam Fox’s suggestion of a special Covid Committee to examine the scientific evidence that is informing the government’s decision making.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.

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