Sunak warned he risks damaging future PM bid by not standing by BorisJanuary 14, 2022
Has ‘prancing pony’ Rishi Sunak overplayed his hand? Ambitious Chancellor is warned he risks damaging his future Tory leadership challenge by not standing by Boris Johnson
- Boris Johnson’s ambitious chancellor Rishi Sunak was branded a ‘prancing pony’
- Mr Sunak offered late and lukewarm support for the embattled Prime Minister
- One Cabinet minister accused him of ‘going missing’ whenever trouble came
- But allies dismissed claims that his support for the PM had been only tepid
Boris Johnson’s ambitious chancellor Rishi Sunak was branded a ‘prancing pony’ over his late tweet of support for the embattled PM.
Senior Conservatives warned Mr Sunak that he risks damaging his leadership challenge hopes by withholding support from his boss over ‘Partygate’.
The Chancellor avoided Wednesday’s bruising PMQs, at which Mr Johnson admitted he attended a ‘BYOB’ garden party at Downing Street during the first national Covid lockdown, by visiting Devon more than 200 miles away.
Eight hours after the stormy exchanges in the Commons, Mr Sunak then gave the PM tepid support — merely saying that Mr Johnson was ‘right to apologise’.
One minister raged: ‘He’s a prancing pony — it’s completely unacceptable. He, and everyone in the Cabinet, should be rowing in fully behind the Prime Minister. It’s pretty overt.’
Another accused Mr Sunak of ‘going missing’ whenever trouble came. A Downing Street source said his absence in the Prime Minister’s hour of need ‘speaks for itself’. But the Treasury flatly denied reports that Mr Sunak had considered resigning in protest at the handling of the issue of lockdown parties at No10 — and insisted Mr Johnson had his full support.
Allies of the Chancellor dismissed claims that his support for the Prime Minister had been only lukewarm — with one saying he had used the wording suggested by No10.
Mr Sunak’s message, sent out eight hours after PMQs, explained that he had been out all day, adding simply: ‘The PM was right to apologise and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray [senior civil servant] carries out her enquiry.’
Boris Johnson’s ambitious chancellor Rishi Sunak was branded a ‘prancing pony’ over his late tweet of support for the embattled PM
Senior Conservatives warned Mr Sunak that he risks damaging his leadership challenge hopes by withholding support from his boss over ‘Partygate’
William Wragg, Mark Harper, Steve Baker, Esther McVey, Philip Davies
Opponents of coronavirus restrictions have become increasingly vocal – and, crucially, organised – as the pandemic drags on. Last month, 101 Tory MPs joined a rebellion over Covid passports. Many are veterans of the Tory Brexit wars and are drawn from ‘the Spartans’ – the gang of hardline Eurosceptics, who after much plotting eventually managed to bring down Theresa May. Mr Wragg was first to go over the top and publicly declare that Boris Johnson’s position was ‘untenable’. The vice-chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee on Wednesday said the PM’s actions had been ‘deeply damaging to the perception of the party’.
Sir Roger Gale, Lord Barwell, Jeremy Hunt, Damian Green, Stephen Hammond
Largely Remainers, this group have never forgiven Mr Johnson for Brexit and his role in toppling Mrs May. They disapprove of his politics and how he conducts his personal life. Sir Roger last month became the first Tory MP to publicly confirm they had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson. On Wednesday he said the Prime Minister was politically now a ‘dead man walking’.
THE 2019 NEWBIES
Christian Wakeford, Neil Hudson, Mark Jenkinson, Chris Loder, Dehenna Davison
These relative newbies have quickly found their voices and been unafraid of making their forthright views known. The whips’ attempts to keep them under control were set back by most of their initial months being spent away from Westminster locked down at home. Several have precariously thin majorities so are particularly sensitive to the polls. The generational divide between them and older Conservative backbenchers was most clearly on display during the Owen Paterson row, when they did not hold back in their criticism of colleagues defending the ex-minister as he attempted to escape suspension for breaking lobbying rules. Mr Wakeford said this week that the situation was embarrassing and demanded: ‘How do you defend the indefensible? You can’t!’
SNIPERS FROM SCOTLAND
Douglas Ross, Baroness Davidson, David Mundell
Some of the most strident criticism has come from senior Conservative figures north of the border, where the PM has consistently been seen as a problem for the party. Mr Ross, who is both an MP and a member of the Scottish Parliament, was the only Government minister to resign over Dominic Cummings’ lockdown-busting trip to Barnard Castle.
Now leader of the Scottish Tory party, he has called for the PM to resign for attending the boozy party in the No10 garden on May 20, 2020.
In a characteristically forthright tweet, his predecessor as leader, Baroness Davidson, this week asked of Mr Johnson and his No10 team: ‘What tf (the f***) were any of these people thinking?’
Caroline Nokes, Tobias Ellwood, Johnny Mercer, Nusrat Ghani, Jackie Doyle-Price
This group are not reluctant about taking to the airwaves to share their opinions. As select committee chairmen, Mrs Nokes and Mr Ellwood have sparred with the PM during his appearances before the liaison committee. They insist it is not about revenge after they were removed when he entered No10. On Wednesday, Mrs Nokes said she recognised Mr Johnson ‘did a fantastic job’ at the 2019 election, but added: ‘Now regretfully, he looks like a liability.’
THE MEN IN GREY SUITS
Sir Graham Brady, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Sir John Redwood
The ‘men in grey suits’ see themselves as the conscience of the Conservative party and believe it is their duty to point out to the Prime Minister when he is getting things wrong. This is often done discreetly behind closed doors, but in recent months these long-serving MPs have publicly raised concerns about the direction on coronavirus and tax policy.
As chairman of the 1922 Committee, it is Sir Graham’s job to collect the letters of no confidence submitted by backbenchers, although he has always been tight-lipped about the number he has received.
One former minister said Mr Sunak had displayed ‘naivety’ by publicly distancing himself from a PM in trouble.
‘If you are in government and the PM is in difficulty then you stand by him and offer your support, you don’t disappear to the end of the country,’ the MP said.
‘It displays not just a lack of loyalty but also a lack of experience. Colleagues are not impressed — it has damaged him.’
Another senior backbencher questioned whether Mr Sunak had served his best interests by staying away so ‘blatantly’.
‘It makes you wonder whether he wishes the crown a bit too soon and a bit too eagerly,’ the source told the Mail. ‘It’s silly of him to do it.’
A Cabinet source said the Chancellor was ‘in danger of overplaying his hand’, adding he and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss — who put out a supportive tweet about the PM, though did so later than the Chancellor — had jumped the gun in manoeuvring for the leadership.
‘Rishi made a mistake in staying away yesterday,’ the source added. ‘It is not the first time he’s gone missing when there’s trouble. Liz is as bad — both of them are masters of the disappearing act. People do notice.’
Priti Patel yesterday appeared to distance herself from Mr Sunak when she spoke out in support of Mr Johnson. Asked if, like the Chancellor, she was reserving judgment on the PM’s conduct until after the publication of Miss Gray’s report, the Home Secretary replied: ‘No! On the contrary.’
A Whitehall source said Mr Sunak’s message about the controversy simply reflected the wording suggested to ministers by No 10 aide Henry Newman.
The source said: ‘If I were Rishi I’d be feeling a bit aggrieved at these claims of disloyalty. His tweet followed almost word for word the suggested phrasing from Henry Newman which was sent round to ministers at about 3pm on Wednesday. It was weak, and a lot of ministers did their own version, but it is what No 10 said they wanted.’
An ally of the Chancellor also stressed that the wording of Mr Sunak’s message was almost identical to that of fellow Cabinet ministers Steve Barclay and Alok Sharma, and similar to that of loyalist Nadine Dorries.
‘Practically every Cabinet minister’s tweet was the same,’ the source said. ‘Some may have put a bit of fluff around it, but Rishi is not a fluffy guy.’
The ally said Mr Sunak’s message of support was late partly because the Chancellor had been locked in an evening meeting with the PM.
Mr Sunak yesterday despatched his deputy Simon Clarke to the airwaves to defend his position in public. The Treasury chief secretary said the Chancellor had been ‘absolutely clear about his support for the PM’.
Former Treasury minister David Gauke said potential leadership candidates had to tread carefully. He told Sky News: ‘If you are serving in the Cabinet then to be seen as openly conspiring is damaging to your prospects.’
It comes as Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen became the fifth Tory MP to call for embattled Mr Johnson to quit over ‘Partygate’.
The MP for North West Leicestershire, who backed the PM to be party leader in June 2019, has submitted a letter of no-confidence in Mr Johnson and urged him to leave office within the next three months.
Blasting the ‘moral vacuum at the heart of Government’, Mr Bridgen joins Douglas Ross, Sir Roger Gale, William Wragg and Caroline Nokes in calling for Mr Johnson to resign over his handling of the lockdown party scandal.
It is understood that up to 30 letters of no-confidence have been submitted to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory MPs. If more than 15 per cent of the party’s MPs submit letter, there has to be a vote on the leadership.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Bridgen thundered: ‘Sadly, the Prime Minister’s position has become untenable.
‘Leadership is not just about the job title, or even making big decisions — it is equally about having a moral compass, of knowing not just right from left but right from wrong.’
Mr Bridgen, 57, added: ‘As more and more revelations have been published, and I fear more are yet to come out, it is clear that not only were rules broken in Downing Street but that the initial response was to stretch the truth about them being broken too.
‘Claims by the Prime Minister that he did not know that he was attending a party seem at best misguided and at worst cynical. So today I’m calling on the Prime Minister to stand down — there is time yet to do the right thing.’
It comes as an inquiry into alleged lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall is expected to rule that there is no evidence of criminality, according to reports.
Sue Gray, the senior civil servant tasked with overseeing the probe, has not found sufficient evidence of criminality to refer matters to the Metropolitan Police but could censure Mr Johnson for a lack of judgement, The Times said.
Scotland Yard said yesterday that it would not investigate alleged breaches of Covid restrictions in Downing Street unless Ms Gray found evidence of criminal behaviour.
The civil servant is also expected to avoid making a conclusion over whether the PM breached the ministerial code by attending a ‘BYOB’ No10 garden party on May 20, 2020 during the first national lockdown because it does not lie within her remit, the paper added. Only Mr Johnson has the power to order such an investigation.
However, Ms Gray is considering censuring the Tory leader for his lack of judgement in attending the drinks party and is likely to recommend disciplinary action against officials and special advisers involved in the events.
Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen has become the fifth Tory MP to call for embattled Boris Johnson to quit over ‘Partygate’
The MP for North West Leicestershire has submitted a letter of no-confidence in Mr Johnson (left) and urged him to leave office within the next three months. It comes as Sue Gray’s inquiry into alleged lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall is expected to rule that there is no evidence of criminality, according to reports (right, Sue Gray)
Downing Street staff held a ‘lockdown-breaking party’ on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral and ‘drank into the early hours’ before The Queen sat alone to lay her husband of 70 years to rest
Downing Street staff allegedly boozed ‘excessively’ at two leaving parties the night before the Queen was forced to grieve alone at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Covid-secure funeral last year, it has emerged tonight.
Government advisers and civil servants drank large amounts of alcohol and danced in No10’s basement and gardens after work on Friday, April 16, 2021 to mark the departure of Boris Johnson’s press chief James Slack and one of the Prime Minister’s personal photographers, according to The Telegraph.
Eyewitnesses claimed that around 30 people attended the two gatherings, which were held in different parts of the Downing Street complex before combining in the garden.
It is alleged that one of the groups moved outside at around midnight because of a fear that too much wine was spilling on the basement carpet as they danced. The paper reported that a No10 figure even ‘had a go’ on a child’s swing belonging to Mr Johnson’s son Wilf — and broke it.
That Friday, Britain was in a period of public mourning over the death of Prince Philip, the nation’s longest-serving consort and the Queen’s husband of more than 70 years.
With the country in Step 2 of a strict lockdown roadmap which barred indoor mixing, mourners were told not to leave flowers and a book of condolence was set up online to ‘reduce the risk of transmission’ of Covid from physical signings.
That Saturday, Her Majesty was forced to sit alone in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle while wearing a black face covering while bidding farewell to the duke. Just 30 mourners were allowed to attend, and all had to keep two metres apart.
Covid restrictions in place in England at the time clearly stated: ‘You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble. You can meet outdoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households.’
A No10 spokesman insisted that Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day, having left for the Chequers country estate on Thursday evening and staying there through to Saturday.
Any defence will likely rely on the claim that the gatherings were for work rather than socialising.
During a bruising PMQs this week, Mr Johnson admitted he spent 25 minutes at the party but insisted he thought it was a ‘work event’.
Though the PM’s cabinet allies rallied around him, it has failed to quell mounting anger on Conservative benches.
Earlier on Thursday, the PM dramatically cancelled a planned visit to a vaccination centre in Lancashire, where he would have faced questions from the media about his actions, because a family member tested positive for Covid.
The situation will keep him out of the public eye, with Downing Street saying he would follow advice to limit contacts ‘up to and including Tuesday of next week’ despite not having to self-isolate because he is vaccinated.
Ms Gray is examining a series of parties and gatherings held in No10 and Whitehall in 2020 while Covid restrictions were in force.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs: ‘The Prime Minister came here yesterday and apologised. He said that, with hindsight, it was not what should have happened or what he would have wanted to happen.
‘It is being investigated by Sue Gray, a civil servant of the highest integrity and of the greatest reputation.
‘But I think everybody understands, on all sides of the House, that people were obeying the rules, and that these rules were very hard for people to obey.’
He suggested the wider inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic should examine ‘whether all those regulations were proportionate, or whether it was too hard on people’, with people not being able to visit loved ones or attend funerals.
No10 said the Government had sought to find the ‘right balance’ in the regulations but ‘there is no cost-free option’.
Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis also urged people to wait for the outcome of the Gray inquiry before making judgments on the Prime Minister’s future, adding that Mr Johnson believed he was within the rules.
‘The Prime Minister has outlined that he doesn’t believe that he has done anything outside the rules. If you look at what the investigation finds, people will be able to take their own view of that at the time,’ the Northern Ireland Secretary said.
Cabinet ministers publicly defended Mr Johnson after his apology on Wednesday, but the late interventions of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Chancellor Rishi Sunak — both tipped as potential successors — did little to instil confidence in his future.
While Mr Johnson endured a difficult session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Sunak had notably spent the day away from London on a visit in Devon.
The PM’s official spokesman insisted the Cabinet fully supported Mr Johnson.
Asked about the delay in Ms Truss and Mr Sunak showing their support, the spokesman said: ‘What the Prime Minister wants and expects is the Cabinet to be focused on delivering on the public’s priorities.’
Asked if he believed he had the full support of his Cabinet, the spokesman said: ‘Yes.’
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries later suggested the Chancellor may have been delayed coming to the Prime Minister’s defence because of poor connectivity during his trip.
She told Channel 4 News: ‘We know he doesn’t have great signal down there.’
But Mr Johnson faced open revolt from one wing of his party, as Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross urged him to quit, with almost all Tory MSPs supporting the call. Mr Ross was dismissed as a ‘lightweight figure’ by Mr Rees-Mogg following his intervention.
Pictured, an image of an alleged lockdown-busting party in No10 on May 15, 2020
Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Ross held office in the Conservative Party so supporting the leader was the ‘honourable and proper thing to do’.
In Westminster, three other Tory MPs have publicly said Mr Johnson should go — Sir Roger Gale, former minister Caroline Nokes and chairman of the Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Committee William Wragg.
In the Commons on Wednesday the Prime Minister said he recognised ‘with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside’ instead of spending 25 minutes in the No 10 garden thanking staff for their work on May 20, 2020.
Downing Street insisted he had not been sent an email from his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, encouraging colleagues to go to the garden for ‘socially distanced drinks’ to ‘make the most of this lovely weather’ — and urging them to ‘bring your own booze’.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner suggested Ms Gray’s inquiry could leave Mr Johnson acting as ‘judge and jury’ over his own conduct.
She said that any matters relating to ministers uncovered in the investigation would be dealt with under the ministerial code — of which the Prime Minister is ultimately in charge.
A YouGov poll for the Times has laid bare the scale of the damage being suffered by the government, showing the Tories slumping five points to just 28 per cent in less than a week
‘So is the Prime Minister going to act as the judge and jury even though he’s also the man in the dock? Or will his Conservative colleagues find their integrity and finally act as executioners to his premiership?’, she asked.
Ms Rayner has written to every Cabinet minister asking them to ‘come clean’ about any gatherings they attended during lockdown.
The Metropolitan Police indicated any investigation by them would depend on evidence unearthed in the Gray inquiry.
The prospect of a police investigation had led to the possibility that the inquiry could be paused, but a Scotland Yard statement said: ‘The Met has ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office in relation to this inquiry.
‘If the inquiry identifies evidence of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence it will be passed to the Met for further consideration.’
Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey tweeted: ‘I’m stunned that (Met Commissioner Dame) Cressida Dick agrees with Boris Johnson that it really is one rule for him and another rule for everyone else. This country deserves so much better than an establishment stitch up.’
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson suffered another blow as deputy chief medical officer Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam — one of the Government’s most effective communicators during the pandemic — announced his departure.
He will leave at the end of March to take up a new role as the pro-vice chancellor for the faculty of medicine and health sciences at University of Nottingham.
On your way to No10, Rishi? Chancellor Sunak breaks cover after lukewarm backing for Boris Johnson over partygate as bookmakers make him favourite to succeed him as prime minister
Rishi Sunak broke cover in Downing Street today, hours after giving his boss Boris Johnson only lukewarm support in the wake of his partygate humiliation.
Rishi Sunak broke cover in Downing Street today, hours after giving his boss Boris Johnson only lukewarm support in the wake of his partygate humiliation.
The Chancellor was more than 200 miles rom Westminster as the Prime Minister apologised for attending a drinks event in his back garden while they were banned in May 2020.
And while other ministers went public with their support for the PM after his 3pm Commons appearance, the bookies favourite to succeed him left it until after 8pm to offer any sort of endorsement.
More than 20 ministers including Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Communities Secretary Michael Gove were despatched to the airwaves and social media to publicly support the PM after his statement to the Commons failed to quell anger among Tory backbenchers.
But the Chancellor spent the day in Ilfracombe, north Devon, before taking to Twitter late on Wednesday to say that Mr Johnson was ‘right to apologise’ over the lockdown party scandal and call for ‘patience’ while Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray conducted an inquiry into the affair.
Mr Johnson told the Commons he thought the bring-your-own-booze party in the No 10 garden in May 2020 was a ‘work event’.
Mr Sunak’s comments were in contrast to those posted by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, another minister said to have eyes on the top job, although she took longer than other ministers to row in behind the PM.
She wrote: ‘The PM is delivering for Britain – from Brexit to the booster programme to economic growth. I stand behind the Prime Minister 100 per cent as he takes our country forward.’
One Cabinet minister today told the Times the two were engaged in ‘obvious game playing’, adding: ‘Rishi and Liz have overplayed their hands. They have lost the subtlety plot.’
Ladbrokes today cut their odds on Mr Sunak becoming the next PM to 7/4 favourite, with Liz Truss at 4/1.
Mr Sunak raised eyebrows yesterday by continuing with an engagement in Devon while Mr Johnson endured a bruising session of Prime Minister’s Questions. Miss Truss sat alongside Mr Johnson in the Commons.
One senior Conservative said the Chancellor had ‘done himself a lot of damage’ by trying to distance himself from the row while others pitched in to help. But other MPs stepped up pressure on the PM after he admitted spending 25 minutes at a boozy staff party in the No10 garden on May 20, 2020.
DAN WOOTTON: The real lesson of Partygate is not that Boris is a lying hypocrite (we knew that already) but that lockdown laws are an ass and always have been
As Boris Johnson sits lamely on political death row – literally cowering at the scene of the crime, Number 10 Downing Street – virtually everyone is missing the point about what PartyGate tells us.
The public are rightly apoplectic with rage that Boris broke the inhumane and frankly ludicrous rules that he inflicted on all of us with far too much zeal so he could cheer on his very social staff (and wife) while downing Tesco rose wine and gin.
But once again, the political, scientific and media establishment are using that outrage to obscure the reality that the rules were never workable, or even necessary.
The people who made them and voted them through time and again – from Cummings to Hancock to Starmer to Drakeford – have never followed them to the letter.
They weren’t living in mortal dread of the virus themselves. They were all prepared to take calculated risks to improve the quality of their lives.
They simply wanted all of us mere mortals to be terrified and so it was easier to enact disturbingly dystopian levels of control and deny us the right to make our own decisions.
Lockdown laws are an ass that should be ruled out as an option from the public health playbook forever.
As Boris Johnson sits lamely on political death row – literally cowering at the scene of the crime, Number 10 Downing Street – virtually everyone is missing the point about what PartyGate tells us
They were an unnecessary step too far that I’m convinced will lead to far more deaths in totality when this pandemic has finally played out.
Now the worm has turned. The data is damning.
History will show that those who backed shutting schools, discouraged cancer patients from attending hospital and allowed helpless souls like little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes be brutally abused for days on end – locked in a house without the usual protection of teachers and extended family – have blood on their hands.
It’s only now, with BoJo’s political life on the line, that the penny is starting to drop for his allies.
His Cabinet pal Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has been valiantly sent into the enemy territory of the BBC’s Newsnight and liberal LBC to defend his boss, is starting to ponder, 22 months too late, that maybe the rules were too tough, after all.
He must have known that at the time, given he admits to being lobbied by a friend who was cruelly banned from attending the funeral of his two-year-old granddaughter – the sort of moral outrage that the government brushed off as acceptable collateral damage.
But now, in attempting to keep Boris in his job, he says: ‘We must consider, as this goes to an inquiry and we look into what happened with Covid, whether all those regulations were proportionate or whether it was too hard on people.’
Boris Johnson and staff pictured with wine in Downing Street garden in May 2020
There was nothing proportionate or sensible about lockdown.
For a start, everybody forgets that most of Britain had already largely voluntarily locked itself down before Boris turned the key on March 20th 2020. Offices, shops and pubs were already deserted before Boris ORDERED them to close.
And while Covid deaths soared until mid-April the three to four week time-lag between infection and death suggests that the public’s voluntarily cooperation had already done enough to make the pandemic manageable.
But folk like me who have been pointing this out for the past two years have been derided as granny killers, accused of wanting the virus to rip through society and take out as many vulnerable people as possible.
Of course, that was never the case.
But there was another way, as the ravers at Number 10 Downing Street prove: Allow the healthy, the young, the immune and the recovered to live a normal life in order to build up herd immunity, while spending the billions we wasted on furlough and test and trace to protect the vulnerable.
The reality is that none of those present were running any huge risk and they knew it. They already worked in close proximity to each other, they were meeting outside where transmission is less likely and by late May the virus was clearly in full retreat in any case
The scandal is not that they had a party but that the rest of us mug punters were not trusted to act equally responsibly in our own lives.
That’s why I supported the Great Barrington Declaration, a strategy of focussed protection authored by three of the world’s top scientists – Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, Sunetra Gupta of the University of Oxford and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University.
But in the new world order, scientific debate was muffled. Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the USA Anthony Fauci demanded the Barrington scientists be rebuffed and censored.
That wasn’t hard. You see, if you stood against the lockdown orthodoxy, the mainstream media didn’t want to know.
It’s sad to see that Boris was captured by the establishment.
The public are rightly apoplectic with rage that Boris broke the inhumane and frankly ludicrous rules that he inflicted on all of us with far too much zeal so he could cheer on his very social staff (and wife) while downing Tesco rose wine and gin
But a brave group of Tory backbenchers formed the Covid Recovery Group – led by former chief whip Mark Harper – and their influence slowly built, culminating in the mass rebellion against what I call Plan BS last month.
While the Leader of No Opposition Keir Starmer nodded through the Boris plan to enact mask mandates and work from home orders, it was the uprising from his own MPs that forced Boris to finally stand up to the dangerous doomsday merchants who he’d been listening to all along: Christopher Whitty, Patrick Vallance, Jenny Harries, Neil Fergusson, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid (who has depressingly been captured by NHS management and become a Matt Hancock clone).
That will turn out to be one of the most significant moments of the entire pandemic.
Boris, knowing his leadership was on the line, finally refused to enact a lockdown or further restrictions.
The usual suspects predicted imminent doom: Bodies piled up, the NHS overwhelmed, all non-urgent surgery cancelled… You’ve heard it all before by this point.
But within less than a month it’s clear none of that is going to happen.
In fact, England’s decision to refuse to lockdown has proved to be a masterstroke.
Scotland and Wales enacted more ridiculous restrictions – including shutting nightclubs, banning mass gatherings, stopping fans going to the football and the like – but their rates have ended up worse than England.
According to figures published by Nicola Sturgeon’s government, the nation had 2,824 cases per million people in the week to January 6, compared to England’s 2,615.
England is also much lower than Wales with 3,481 and Northern Ireland with 3,893.
Let that sink in: Scheming Sturgeon and Mad Dog Drakeford’s pathetic controls on their citizens resulted in HIGHER Covid case rates.
Across continental Europe, the comparison is even more stark.
The Netherlands went into a lockdown before Christmas and cases are now soaring: A new record was set this week, with over 201,000 people testing positive.
On Tuesday, France hit a record 368,000 cases, even though the Covid hysteric Macron has attempted to shut the unvaccinated out of society, closed nightclubs, mandated facemasks outdoors in Paris, and even banned eating and drinking on trains.
All lockdowns do is delay the inevitable, while causing untold collateral damage.
What a shame Boris didn’t listen sooner to his brilliant former Brexit Secretary Lord Frost, who quit in a rare act of political morality throughout this pandemic because he couldn’t stomach the PM’s continued restrictions for a moment longer.
In a new interview with this week’s brilliant Planet Normal podcast, he has said: ‘I think honestly, people are going to look back at the last couple of years globally and see lockdown as a pretty serious public policy mistake. I would like to see the Government ruling out lockdowns for the future, repealing the legislation, ending them.
‘We can’t afford it [and] it doesn’t work. Stop doing Covid theatre – vaccine passports, masks, stuff that doesn’t work – and focus on stuff that does work. Stuff like ventilation, antivirals, proper hospital capacity – that’s what we need to be focussing on.’
He’s right. And it’s also time we change our language about Covid and a constant obsession with an illness that is minor for most and fast becoming endemic.
I’ve had Omicron and people say things like, ‘I’m so glad you got through it.’What the hell? It was a pussycat – especially compared to the Wuhan strain which I had in March 2020 – nothing more than a common cold, irritating for a couple of days, but certainly not something for which I needed a jot of sympathy.
Boris now has the teeniest of windows to try and salvage something from his unfathomable rule break to secure some sort of Covid legacy.
Lord Frost is correct that what will probably be his final chapter as prime minister must be to banish the lockdown laws that even he couldn’t follow.
He must turn his back on the authoritarianism that he promoted and that has finally seen him lose the teflon coating that for so long allowed him to remain politically popular despite scandal after scandal that would finish off any other politician in the brutal age of the 24-hour news cycle and social media.
But Boris is reaping what he sowed 22 months ago.
He allowed his advisers to ramp up the terrifying propaganda, turned guidance into laws, threatened healthy folk for simply seeing friends, and empowered the police to arrest and issue ridiculous fines (which should all now be handed back).
Oh, the irony that all of this could come back to haunt former libertarian Boris and see him deposed as PM.
Returning Britain to normal life by the end of the month is the only way he now has any hope of convincing his mutinous backbenchers to offer a stay of execution.
Boris today, however, is hiding behind the worst of the Covid restrictions.
Out of an abundance of unnecessary caution – probably because he wanted to avoid a TV interview – he’s self-isolating AGAIN after a family member tested positive.
And if we continue to live in this way the country will never get back on its feet and the economy will continue to splutter along with far too many staff out of work for no good reason.
The lesson we must learn from the tragic fall of Boris Johnson is that lockdowns never worked and they must never be unleashed again.
And that we should all have the right to decide for ourselves how much we are prepared to let Covid, or any other virus, rule our lives.
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