Prime Minister's Questions proved a rather testy affair today as both Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer barked questions at each other across the Commons floor. After the Prime Minister unveiled his plans on Monday for a big bang reopening in which legal rules will be replaced by a focus on personal responsibility, Starmer urged caution.
The Labour leader quizzed Johnson on the health impact of this decision. He asked what the government estimate was for the number of hospitalisations if cases hit 50,000 a day. Johnson declined to say.
Starmer then moved on to the practicalities of Johnson's planned easing after the government announced that all individuals – including the double-jabbed – will continue to be required to self isolate if contacted by NHS Test and Trace until at least August. Amid claims that this could lead to as many as ten million people having to self isolate in the next six months, Starmer went on to ask Johnson if the UK was heading for a summer of chaos and confusion – to which Johnson said no.
What helped Johnson in his answers is the fact that Labour's own position on Covid rules isn't particularly different to the Tories. Johnson pressed Starmer on what he would do differently. The Labour leader's reply of masks on public transport and better ventilation was rather weak. If Starmer is so worried about the effect of high cases on both hospitalisations and daily life, surely more than face masks on the tube would be required to have a substantial effect on the R number?
Yet while Starmer didn't come across as offering an alternative proposal, his questions still point to potential problems for the Prime Minister. He called the Delta variant the 'Boris Johnson variant', blaming the Prime Minister for allowing it to enter the country in the first place.
Whether or not that name sticks, the Delta variant has made Johnson's plans for unlocking much more difficult. The hope in No. 10 had been that by this point in the summer, not only would deaths be low so, too, would cases.
Reopening when millions risk legally-mandated self isolation for ten days is a far cry from the 'freedom day' first imagined.