Boris Johnson's roadmap out of lockdown moves at a much slower pace than many of his backbenchers would like. Despite, this, the Prime Minister has so far managed to avoid a large backlash from Tory MPs with his blueprint for ending lockdown. While leading figures of the Covid Recovery Group were quick to voice their objections in the Commons chamber over the fact restrictions will be in place until late June, the Prime Minister received a relatively warm reception when he addressed his party via Zoom on Monday evening.
The Prime Minister was 20 minutes late for the call meaning questions were relatively limited. He began by assuring MPs that the government would not adopt a zero covid strategy. Instead, the country would need to manage it like flu. He then offered another car analogy. Having previously likened Covid to a six-hour car journey, Johnson told MPs that they were now at the point when the car is moving into the fast lane — moving from the left lane into the far right lane.
Johnson repeated his line from earlier that he was setting out the dates he had because he values certainty over haste. The plan was broadly welcomed by the MPs on the call — with several praising the vaccination programme for allowing the government to get to this point. One senior Tory on the call describes the atmosphere as positive — with Johnson even receiving an invite from an MP planning to make the most of the plans to allow weddings. MPs also took heart from the suggestion from Johnson that on 21 June — when the country is due to move into the fourth stage — all these rules will expire.
However, concerns remain on the effect months of restrictions will have on the hospitality industry and aviation industry. Johnson's refusal to move any faster in the easing of lockdown will come under more pressure from MPs if the data significantly improves. At that point, one MP tells Coffee House there will be a compelling 'data-led' argument for a shift in strategy.
As for the next Tory battle. The most hostile question during Johnson's call came from Steve Baker. He asked the Prime Minister what was going with immunity passports after the government said it would make a decision on ‘Covid status certification’ in the run-up to Step 4. According to those on the call, Johnson became defensive, replying that nothing is going on and that there was no secret agenda. However, many MPs worry that this plan to review certification could mean domestic immunity passports by the backdoor. If it does, Johnson will face a Tory backlash.
Listen to Katy Balls discuss the new roadmap out of lockdown with Isabel Hardman and James Forsyth: