Monday, 11 May 2020

Boris Johnson's big lockdown speech descends into farce

Boris Johnson's big lockdown speech unravelled today as Dominic Raab contradicted his call for millions of workers to return to duties immediately in the middle of rush hour.

The Foreign Secretary insisted the government is not urging workers to return until Wednesday, despite No10's official press release on the PM's TV address saying they should go back today. 

The comment, when many will have already been on their way by road or public transport, came as it emerged that health and safety guidance for businesses will not be issued until tomorrow - 24 hours before the back to work edict now comes into force.   

Mr Raab spread more confusion by suggesting that people can meet two relatives such as parents in parks while maintaining social distancing, sending Downing Street scrambling to say that is not in fact the case. 

He also got in a muddle and suggested that pubs could open as early as June - when the PM said it would be no earlier than July. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Government's strategy to ease the lockdown was already 'unravelling' within hours of it being announced - while Unite union baron Len McCluskey stoked up class war rhetoric by saying ministers were 'recklessly' telling manual labourers to risk their own safety while the wealthy stay at home. 

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon demanded that Mr Johnson stop telling Scots what to do, saying she would ban the new 'stay alert' public information campaign from being aired north of the border because the 'vague' words could put lives at risk. 

She also said businesses must remain closed and Scots did not have 'a licence to meet up at the park', after Mr Johnson said it was OK to go and 'sit in the sun' in local green spaces.

People appeared to have taken Mr Johnson's advice this morning, with the roads, Tube and buses already busier than normal. 

But in a round of interviews, Foreign Secretary Mr Raab clarified that workers were not in fact being asked to go back until later this week. 'That won't start until Wednesday,' he said. 'There will be guidance out. We have been working with employers to make sure it can be done in a safe way.' 

On another turbulent day as the government's plans threatened to descend into a shambles: 

  • New analysis has suggested people working in social care, including care workers and home carers, along with bus drivers and security guards have 'significantly' higher death rates involving Covid-19 than the working population as a whole;
  • The government will publish its 50-page 'road map' for easing lockdown later, but the guidance for health and safety in workplaces will not be released until tomorrow;
  • Mr Johnson will be grilled in the Commons this afternoon and address a public event tonight, but is not expected to front a daily No10 press conference; 
  • The viewing figures for Mr Johnson's big speech were 27.49million last night, higher than the 27.1million for his original lockdown announcement and more than the 23.3million for the Queen. It was the eighth most-watched programme in British history;  
  • British Airways has warned that the 14-day quarantine rule for arrivals in the UK could mean it does not start flights in July as expected; 
  • Jury trials in England and Wales are to resume from next week, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett has announced;   

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