Katy Balls

Prime Minister hints at ‘tougher’ restrictions to come

Prime Minister hints at 'tougher' restrictions to come
BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show
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Boris Johnson kicked off the new year with an appearance on The Andrew Marr show in which he warned of tough weeks ahead for the country. With Covid cases on the rise and concerns among the scientific community that the current restrictions will not be enough to contain spread of the virus, the Prime Minister said that restrictions are 'alas probably about to get tougher'.

Johnson told Marr that the government was 'entirely reconciled to doing what it takes to get the virus down and that may involve tougher measures in the weeks ahead' – even if that meant doing things in the next few weeks that 'will be tougher in many parts of the country'. However, for now at least, that does not mean new school closures. Despite teaching unions launching legal action over the government's current plans to open many primary schools (they will stay closed in some of the worst-hit areas by coronavirus), Johnson said parents should send their children to primary school come Monday so long as the school was open. 

Pointing to lateral flow tests as a way of keeping track of infections in schools, he said there was 'no doubt in my mind that schools are safe'. While Johnson would not rule out more closures, it was clear from his comments on the 'huge' benefit of education compared with the low risk of Covid to children that this is the area where he is most reluctant to bring in restrictions. Johnson would not go into any detail on what then tighter restrictions would look like. The implication from his comments is that they will be regional rather than national – previous features of European lockdowns have included curfews and a limit on how many times an individual can leave their home.

Looking ahead to the year as a whole, Johnson was still keen to paint a positive picture – speaking of the pros of his Brexit deal as well as the progress on vaccines. Asked about concerns for the Union and how voters 'afar' in Scotland might feel about Brexit and the government's Covid handling, Johnson got into a debate with Marr over his use of 'afar' – before insisting any second referendum on Scottish independence couldn't be for some time (perhaps until 2055 – pointing to the time between the two European referendums as 'a good sort of gap), as it has to be 'once in a generation'.

After growing frustrated with some of Marr's line of questioning, Johnson went so far as to suggest his interviewer was approaching a gloomster, as he struggled to land a few lines on the reasons to think things will be much better by the spring. Faced with mounting criticism over the pace of the rollout, he pointed out that the UK was still well ahead of its neighbouring countries on its vaccination programme and said he was confident tens of millions of people would be vaccinated in the next few months. The Prime Minister knows that it is on a successful vaccine rollout that his optimism for the year ahead will prove either well-founded or misplaced. 

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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