Katy Balls

No. 10’s approach to new restrictions

No. 10's approach to new restrictions
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Cappuccino lovers beware. As ministers pressure Boris Johnson to consider tightening up the current lockdown, tougher messaging are emerging as the more likely option. Although Keir Starmer used the first Prime Minister's Questions of 2021 to try and get on the front foot arguing that it was clear that tougher restrictions than the ones currently on offer were required — asking why, if the infection rate was higher than in March, the restrictions to tackle it were looser – Johnson responded by going on the attack. He replied that if Starmer had had his way the country would have been in a 12 month continuous lockdown.

Johnson said that he would not — and had not — ruled out tighter rules. But he pointed to data suggesting that the current measures were having some effect. This points to the different between Starmer and Johnson's approach. While they may eventually both end up in the same place. or – to put another way – Johnson will eventually do what Starmer is now calling for, the Prime Minister does not mind waiting until the last moment because he views any attempt to keep some liberties in place/allow people more freedom as a worthy endeavour. 

While some ministers privately do expect tighter rules before this lockdown ends (with the measures viewed as most likely by officials are a ban on households mixing for exercise and tighter rules for those going to work still), officials believe next week is likely the earliest for any changes. There is an appetite in No. 10 to focus on stronger messaging while they wait and see whether the new measures are working. Tweaks to guidance rather than changes to the regulations are viewed as more likely in the short term. 

In the meantime, expect tougher messaging on the current rules – with new adverts being drawn up. Particularly on the government's new favourite activity to bash – takeaway hot drinks (two women were fined — now retracted — recently for driving five miles to go on a walk with two cups of coffee). I understand one draft advert being considered for publication reads along the lines of 'grabbing a coffee can kill'. Even those working on the adverts considered it a touch OTT.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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