Pull out the Pimm’s, fire up the barbecues. Boris Johnson is getting the summer started. Well, sort of. The Prime Minister used yesterday’s Downing Street press briefing to light the touch paper on the next stage of easing this dratted lockdown. Or as he put it ‘our next steps in the fight against coronavirus‘.
It was not a dramatic change of gears, granted. Not like that gratifying shift from fourth down to second as you zoom past a tractor on a quiet country lane. Getting back to normal will be a process not an event. Baby steps, people.
As of Monday, more schools will reopen. Outdoor retail outlets, such as car showrooms, will also begin trading again. All being well, a fortnight later, other non-essential shops will be allowed to open, so long as they are ‘Covid secure’. Hurrah!
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the press conference at 10 Downing Streetyesterday
Most encouraging of all was an announcement that different households would be able to meet up outside, in gardens and other spaces. ‘I know for many people this will be a long awaited moment,’ said Boris. Too right.
Numbers for now, he said, would be limited to six (‘At least the Lib Dem conference can go ahead,’ chuntered one Twitter wag). Naturally, Nicola Sturgeon had to better him at her daily briefing in Edinburgh earlier by announcing she would allow numbers to swell to eight.
Noticeably, throughout the PM’s speech he refused to let go of the bridle. Caution lurked in every paragraph. We were warned to avoid meeting people from too many different households. We were told to avoid going inside other people’s homes.
Those who have been advised to shield were requested to remain indoors. ‘I cannot, will not, throw away all the gains we have made together,’ he insisted. There would undoubtedly be ‘anomalies and inconsistencies’ in the rules he said, adding: ‘We will inevitably not get everything right first go.’ Here, a little dig at all the TV pundits who criticise him at every turn.
Mr Johnson with Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (left) and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (right) during the media briefing at Downing Street yesterday
For the Alastair Campbells and Piers Morgans, nothing this Prime Minister says or does will ever be good enough.
There was no mention of pubs sadly. Oh, for just a sip of a freezing cold lager in a beer garden this weekend. Come on, don’t pretend you haven’t thought about it.
Nor was there any hint as to when hairdressers will be getting back to work. Groan. All of us on my street are beginning to look like troglodytes. You should see some of the barnets in Parliament. Defence minister Johnny Mercer looks like he’s just returned from his gap year.
The A Team were back. Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance always lend these sessions an authoritative air. Sir Patrick was not wild about the ‘R’ rate. Worryingly, he felt cases weren’t dropping as quickly as he’d like. When questions arrived, naturally the ‘C’ word was muttered. Laura Kuenssberg wanted to know what the scientists thought of the whole Cummings business. Oh no you don’t, motioned Boris. He didn’t want his guys getting involved in what he regarded as a political matter. Kuenssberg tried to remonstrate but was swiftly muted. Sky wanted to know if the boffins were embarrassed that the PM had effectively gagged them.
The Prime Minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings arrives at Downing Street yesterday
Whitty said the desire not to get involved was far greater on his part than the PM’s. ‘That’s for sure!’ Boris harrumphed. ‘I’m a civil servant, I have not the slightest desire to comment on politics,’ Sir Patrick seconded with an airy wave of the hand. ‘Yeah, well unfortunately I have to!’ Boris moaned.
And that was that. Barring revelations in the weekend newspapers that Mr Cummings breakfasts on marinated puppy dogs’ tails, the PM’s aide seems now to have ridden the storm. But at what damage to the Government vessel?
It’s been a dreadful week for the Prime Minister but at least this announcement gives him a bit of forward traction. It’s been a long time coming but finally, some real light at the end of the tunnel.