Boris Johnson will plead with the nation to make “one last heave” to freedom as he announces a delay of up to four weeks in lifting lockdown restrictions in England.
A government source has told Sky News the prime minister will dash hopes that Freedom Day will come in two weeks’ time, on 21 June, and it will instead be postponed until 19 July.
“It is one last heave,” a senior source was quoted as saying after the PM met senior Cabinet ministers and his scientific advisers. “It is a straight race between the vaccine and the virus.”
Mr Johnson will blame the delay on a third wave of COVID-19 infections and say it will allow millions more people to be vaccinated and more to receive a second jab by the end of July.
As well as a delay in lifting restrictions, allowing scientists more time to monitor the new Delta variant, the PM is likely to announce a drive to accelerate the vaccination programme.
But the delay means that despite the success of the vaccination programme so far there will only be minor adjustments to the current lockdown rules in England.
Under the PM’s likely plan, which will dismay many Tory MPs and business leaders, that would mean:
- Pubs remain restricted to table service, despite the Euros football championships getting underway;
- The guidance that “everyone who can work from home must do so” remains in place’
- Theatres and other indoor venues will be restricted to 50 per cent capacity, despite a plea by Andrew Lloyd-Webber to re-open;
- Nightclubs will remain closed, but there is likely to be a reprieve for weddings, which at present can only be attended by 30 guests.
The four-week delay was agreed by a group of senior ministers -Mr Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Health Minister Matt Hancock – after a briefing by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser.
Announcing his controversial decision later at a Downing Street news conference, Mr Johnson will argue that sticking to the rules now is worth it to avoid a future lockdown.
“The message has always been cautious but irreversible,” the senior Government source told The Daily Telegraph. “That has been our mantra throughout and that continues.
“It would be far worse to have uncertainty and go backwards. It is better to be cautious and have certainty.”
As a sop to Conservative MPs who will be furious about a four-week delay, Mr Johnson is expected to promise a review of the continuing restrictions after the first two weeks.
But the expected delay has also provoked a furious reaction from the trade body representing pubs, cafes restaurants, hotels and nightclubs.
“A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably,” said Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality
“If Government decides it has to keep some restrictions in place after June 21, then it must prioritise those that do the least damage to business and commit to further supporting the sector.
“Hospitality is desperate to get back to what it does best and can play a key role in the economic recovery of the UK – but only if it is given permission to trade and proper support.”
Leading a backlash from Conservative MPs, Mark Harper, chairman of the COVID Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, said he feared lockdown could be extended until at least the end of September if ministers attempt to wait until the whole population has been double-jabbed.
“We have a rapid rollout of effective vaccines and are heading into summer,” he tweeted. “If, even at this point, the Government won’t release restrictions, this points to restrictions in the autumn and winter, when respiratory diseases increase and the NHS is always under more pressure.
“This would be devastating for business confidence, people’s livelihoods and wellbeing.”
UK weather: New warnings issued as 1,500 properties still without power
Around 1,500 homes and businesses are still without power after heavy snow caused major power cuts in Cumbria.
It came as much of the country was hit by cold and wet conditions over the weekend, including a low of -12.5C recorded in northern Scotland overnight.
Freezing conditions are forecast to continue on Monday and the Met Office has issued new yellow weather warnings for snow, ice and rain.
Cumbria was one of the worst affected regions over the weekend, with up to 30cm of snow falling in places.
Officials declared a major incident in the county on Saturday and advised people not to travel unless necessary.
Dozens of motorists in the Lake District were forced to abandon their cars overnight. Many were forced to seek refuge in local community centres, primary schools and a church.
Electricity North West said its engineers had been “battling treacherous conditions” throughout the weekend and were still working on restoring supplies on Sunday evening.
Another 7,500 homes and businesses have been reconnected after earlier being hit by power cuts.
The weather also caused disruption to travel, including at East Midlands Airport, which was forced to temporarily close its runway on Sunday.
It came after some flights were cancelled at Glasgow Airport and London Stansted Airport on Saturday.
The Met Office’s new weather warnings include alerts for ice across much of northern England and parts of the Midlands, as well as snow for higher areas of Wales and the Peak District.
The weather agency said there was a risk that snow will lead to major travel disruption and there could be “accumulations of 2cm to 5cm on some roads above around 150m, and perhaps 10cm to 15cm on roads above around 350m”.
The warning runs from Sunday evening until 12pm on Monday.
The Met Office also issued a yellow weather warning for rain across parts of southern Wales and southwest England, with the alert due to come into force from midnight and run until 6pm on Monday.
Forecasters said there was a risk of flooding to some homes and businesses, as well as potential disruption to train and bus services.
The RAC warned northern parts of the country were facing an “ice rink on Monday as snow refreezes overnight” and advised motorists to take care.
Spokesperson Simon Williams said: “We’re expecting some very treacherous icy conditions in northern parts, so those who have to drive should exercise great caution.
“If it’s possible to delay or even abandon journeys that may well be the best option.”
However, Met Office meteorologist Tom Morgan said the weather would likely become milder later in the week.
He added: “So there is an end in sight to the wintry weather.”
Rishi Sunak suggests more tax cuts are on the way – but refuses to commit to triple lock manifesto pledge
Rishi Sunak has suggested more tax cuts are on the way because the economy has “turned a corner”.
The prime minister told reporters that while he would not comment on specifics, trimming taxes was “the direction of travel from this government”.
But it came as he refused to say if the pensions triple lock would be in the next Conservative Party manifesto – despite Downing Street insisting in September that it was “committed” to the policy.
Mr Sunak’s comments echo similar remarks by his ministers in recent weeks.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also said last month that the economy had “turned a corner” just before he unveiled a cut to National Insurance in the Autumn Statement.
However, four million people could also end up paying higher taxes if their wages rise after the government decided to continue the freeze on tax thresholds.
Reports suggest the Conservatives are considering additional cuts in 2024 as the party tries to woo voters and reduce Labour’s 20-point lead in opinion polls ahead of the next general election, which must take place by January 28 2025.
Cuts to stamp duty and inheritance tax are among the options reportedly being looked at by ministers.
When asked about the two policies, Mr Sunak said: “I would never comment on specific taxes. But what I will just say, though, is we have turned a corner.
“We have got inflation down, as I said we would, we have grown the economy and we are now focused on controlling spending and controlling welfare so we can cut taxes. So when we can do more, we will.”
He added: “We want to grow the economy, we want to reward people’s hard work and aspirations and cut their taxes responsibly. That is the direction of travel from this government.
“If you want controlled public spending, controlled welfare and your taxes cut, then vote Conservative.”
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Mr Sunak was unable to make similar promises about the triple lock, which ensures the state pension must rise every April by whichever is highest out of average earnings, inflation or 2.5%.
The policy has come under fire in recent months by critics who claim it has become too expensive and gives the government less financial “headroom” to deal with economic shocks.
Some senior Tories have called for it to be scrapped and Labour has refused to guarantee the triple lock will remain in place if it wins the next election.
While the government continued with the policy in its recent Autumn Statement, ensuring the state pension will rise by 8.5% in April 2024 to £221.20 a week, Mr Sunak refused to be drawn when asked directly if it would be in the next Tory manifesto.
Speaking to journalists as he flew between the UK and Dubai for the COP28 summit, he replied: “[I’m] definitely not going to start writing the manifesto on the plane, as fun as that would be.”
Mr Sunak acknowledged there had been “some scepticism” about if policy was going to form part of the Autumn Statement, but said its inclusion had been “a signal of our commitment to look after our pensioners who have put a lot into our country”.
Reindeer block dual carriageway in Suffolk
A major road was closed by police in both directions after a “large number” of reindeer wandered in front of traffic.
Police were called to the scene, on the A11 near Barton Mills in Suffolk, at around 3.20pm on Sunday.
National Highways East said no traffic had been able to pass due to the “large number” of the animals on the road and added that police had been “trying to catch them”.
The reindeer eventually left the road at around 5.20pm and it was reopened shortly afterwards, officials said.
In an update on X, formerly Twitter, National Highways East confirmed police closed the A11 “in both directions between A1134 and A1101”.
There are not thought to be any wild reindeer in England and it is unclear where the animals came from.
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