Sajid Javid used his first appearance at the despatch box since his appointment as Health Secretary to paint an optimistic picture of the UK's route out of lockdown. Confirming that there would be no relaxation on 5 July, Javid talked up the likelihood of restrictions ending on 19 July. He appeared to go further than Matt Hancock on the end of lockdown. Javid said he was 'very confident' the end of the roadmap would go ahead: 'For me, 19 July is not only the end of the line but the start of an exciting new journey for our country.'
Of course, Javid wouldn't be the first minister to sound positive about an easing date only for it delayed. But what was striking about his comments was how he said there would never be a perfect date for ending restrictions. Instead, rather than hope to eliminate the virus, the British people needed to learn to live with Covid sooner rather than later:
“We see no need to go beyond the 19 July because in truth no date we choose comes with zero risk for Covid. We know we simply cannot eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it. We also know that people and businesses need certainty so we want every step to be irreversible. And make no mistake Mr Deputy Speaker, the restrictions on our freedoms, they must come to and end. We owe it to the British people who have sacrificed so much to restore their freedoms as quickly as we possibly can and not to wait a moment longer than we need to.
In response to questions from Tory backbenchers, Javid said it was the government's intention to remove all remaining restrictions by 19 July — though he added that the government would follow the data. There were also a few hints of where Javid sits on other political battles coming up the track. He said there would be a fair settlement on NHS pay after a 1 per cent pay rise was mooted for nurses. He also spoke about the need for 'sustainable' funding on social care, which suggests he could prove an ally for the Chancellor when it comes to finding a solution.
Javid's optimism over the 19 July easing is in line with the general government message. The Prime Minister also made positive noises about it today. However, even if it does go ahead as planned, it won't mark the end of the cabinet Covid debates. Already there's talk of a difficult winter and some ministers believe restrictions could have to be brought back later in the year. The Health Secretary's comments today suggest he would be reluctant to support such measures.