Katy Balls

Why No. 10 U-turned on Boris and Rishi’s self-isolation

Why No. 10 U-turned on Boris and Rishi's self-isolation
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It's the eve of so-called 'freedom day' and the government has been forced into a U-turn over its use of a pilot testing scheme. After Sajid Javid tested positive for Covid, both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were contacted by NHS Test and Trace having met with the health secretary on Friday. 

However, rather than actually self isolate, Downing Street initially announced that the pair would be exempt — instead needing to simply take daily tests as part of the scheme. Following a furious backlash from all sides, that decision has been reversed less than three hours later. Announcing the news, a Downing Street spokesperson said:

The Prime Minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid. He was at Chequers when contacted by Test and Trace and will remain there to isolate. He will not be taking part in the testing pilot. He will continue to conduct meetings with ministers remotely. The Chancellor has also been contacted and will also isolate as required and will not be taking part in the pilot.

Labour frontbenchers have been quick to go on the attack citing it as evidence that it is 'one rule for them' and likening it to the Barnard Castle row. However, more worryingly for the Prime Minister, it also went down like a cup of cold sick with his own MPs. Conservative MPs have been messaging one another this morning in disbelief at the plans which risk overshadowing tomorrow's easing and sending the wrong message on self-isolation.

Given that 520,194 were pinged last week and told to self isolate, ministers are braced for a messy reopening. 

This morning Neil Ferguson told Andrew Marr that cases will reach 100,000 a day in the coming weeks and could go all the way to 200,000. Since the double-jabbed won't be exempt from self-isolation until mid-August, that is a lot of self-isolation orders in the coming weeks. 

The government — including Johnson himself — has urged members of the public not to eschew this by deleting the NHS Test and Trace app. Making senior ministers exempt (Michael Gove is still part of the scheme) makes that message harder to land. 

The fact that No. 10 changed course so quickly should limit the political damage. Yet for Tory MPs, the decision to announce these exemptions in the first place has led to more questions about the wisdom of the current political operation in 10 Downing Street. 

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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