Boris Johnson will soon set out plans to ‘rebuild Britain’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, amid reports he wants to ease lockdown restrictions quickly to save millions of jobs.
The Prime Minister is expected to use a major speech to effectively relaunch the Conservatives’ domestic agenda after the Government’s attention turned to the Covid-19 crisis, during which the Tories’ poll rating has plummeted.
Mr Johnson will this week chair a meeting of his Cabinet to update them on the next lockdown-easing steps for a number of sectors, which are expected to take effect from June 15.
The Sunday Times reported that the PM will unveil plans to ease restrictions on weddings and funerals from next month, as well as possible measures to reopen hairdressers before July 4.
Planning controls will also be relaxed to enable pubs, cafés and restaurants to use outside areas.
Boris Johnson will soon set out plans to ‘rebuild Britain’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, amid reports he wants to ease lockdown restrictions quickly to save millions of jobs
Planning controls will also be relaxed to enable pubs, cafés and restaurants to use outside areas
And the paper said Mr Johnson has told Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to secure ‘travel corridor’ deals with holiday hotspots by June 28.
Downing Street announced on Saturday night that churches and other places of worship are set to open for private prayer from June 15, but worship groups, weddings and other services will still not be permitted.
The PM is said to have signed off on plans to reopen the economy after being warned by Business Secretary Alok Sharma that a failure to reopen the hospitality sector could cost 3.5 million jobs. Mr Johnson reportedly replied: ‘Christ!’
However, there are concerns that the reproduction rate of coronavirus is dangerously high – with a report by Public Health England and Cambridge University placing the R value just above 1 in the North West.
The Sunday Times reported that the PM will unveil plans to ease restrictions on weddings and funerals from next month, as well as possible measures to reopen hairdressers before July 4
If R is 1 or higher, the virus will spread exponentially through the population, while a value less than 1 indicates the virus is in decline.
Senior figures from across the NHS have also issued a plea for a comprehensive plan to tackle a second wave of coronavirus infections. Health chiefs have also said that there should be no further easing of lockdown before the test and trace system has been proven to work.
The Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, reported that the Prime Minister would outline plans to accelerate major infrastructure projects – including pledges to build 40 new hospitals and key road upgrades – in a speech in the coming weeks.
Mr Johnson is also said to want to fast-track recruitment campaigns for doctors and nurses to increase the NHS’s resilience before the winter.
A Whitehall source told the paper that ‘getting the immediate crisis under control remains the Prime Minister’s main focus’, but said the Government is ‘also preparing for tough economic times ahead’.
‘The PM wants to explain that rebuilding after this crisis won’t be a repeat of 2008.
‘In the election the PM made the right diagnosis of the problems many people face. He believes now is the time to be even more ambitious with his plans to unite and level up the country.’
In other coronavirus developments today:
- An Opinium poll suggested just under half of the population disapprove of the Government’s handling of the crisis, while the Tory vote share has fallen to 43%, with Labour on 40%;
- Anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis were held across the UK – despite a plea from the Health Secretary for people not to gather during lockdown;
- Healthcare chief Chris Hopson said NHS trusts were not consulted on plans for all hospital staff to wear surgical face masks and visitors and outpatients to wear face coverings from June 15;
- The Department of Health and Social Care said another 204 people had died after testing positive for coronavirus, taking the death toll to 40,465. The total toll for all deaths involving Covid-19 across the UK is thought to have passed 50,000.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that places of worship are expected to reopen for private, individual prayer from June 15.
He said: ‘People of all faiths have shown enormous patience and forbearance, unable to mark Easter, Passover, Ramadan or Vaisakhi with friends and family in the traditional way.
‘As we control the virus, we are now able to move forwards with a limited but important return to houses of worship.’
Parks are open so why not playgrounds? Boris Johnson is warned of ‘catastrophic’ impact on children’s health
Boris Johnson is being urged to reopen playgrounds or risk a ‘catastrophic’ impact on children’s health.
Campaigners have written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to set out when public play areas will be reopened.
Beaches and parks are now open to the public, but playgrounds have been closed since the lockdown began, with anyone caught using them risking a fine.
The pressure comes as children begin mixing again in schools.
Mark Hardy, chairman of the Association of Play Industries, said: ‘Children’s outdoor play is essential for their normal development.
Children have been in lockdown for months, many with limited or no outside space. It is astonishing that the Government has made no mention of reopening public playgrounds.’
The pressure comes as children begin mixing again in schools. Pictured: Playground equipment taped off at Brambles Primary Academy in Huddersfield
Other European nations have reopened playgrounds in recent weeks and the Republic of Ireland will do so tomorrow.
Mr Hardy said: ‘Mr Johnson has declared a ‘much more interventionist’ approach to obesity in the fight against coronavirus, and yet they have remained silent on playgrounds, which have an essential role in tackling the obesity crisis.’
Campaigners say play areas have suffered years of chronic under-funding.
The Mail on Sunday’s Save Our Parks campaign revealed that one playground a week has closed since 2014 and local authorities plan to cut £25 million from playground budgets next year.
Campaigners have written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to set out when public play areas will be reopened. Pictured: Grass and weeds beginning to grow in the sand in a closed playground in Manchester
Mr Hardy called on the Government to invest £100 million in the nation’s play areas to offset years of underfunding.
He said: ‘We are giving the Government notice now of the catastrophic impact on children’s health unless there is targeted support for our small but vital industry.
‘The lockdown has created a renewed appreciation of shared public spaces and their role in public health. With evidence that obesity exacerbates Covid-19 symptoms, the need to address the already burgeoning inactivity epidemic becomes even more urgent.’
Downing Street said: ‘There is an increased risk of transmission of the virus in outdoor swimming pools, gyms and playgrounds, so they remain closed for now. We know how important play is and we keep all measures under regular review.’
Is a split emerging between Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak? Tory MPs fear ‘growing cracks’ after disagreements on China and US trade deal – but No 10 denies ‘tired’ PM needs three-hour naps after virus battle
Tory MPs have expressed concern about ‘growing cracks’ between Boris Johnson and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak, as Cabinet splits widen over post-Brexit economic policy and the UK’s tense relationship with China.
Differences between the two most powerful members of the Government came to a head last week in meetings about the security threat posed by Beijing and the scope of a new trade deal with Washington.
Sources also claimed that a rift has opened up over coronavirus strategy – although allies of both men insisted last night they are ‘on the same page’ in terms of managing a swift exit from the lockdown and avoiding austerity measures during the recovery.
Tensions are growing between Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (left) over the UK’s relationships with China and the USA
It comes as rumours swirl around Westminster that the Prime Minister is struggling to recover fully from being infected with Covid-19, and requires ‘power naps’ of two to three hours during the day – something Downing Street says is ‘completely untrue’.
The claims have fanned febrile talk on the backbenches – also denied – that Mr Sunak is already positioning himself for a run at the party leadership if it falls vacant in the next couple of years.
One of the sharpest differences between No 10 and No 11 is over China as Ministers have been alarmed by sabre-rattling from Beijing.
The Chinese embassy in London is understood to have passed on warnings that the regime will take ‘economic revenge’ if the Government continues to warn it to respect democracy in Hong Kong – or goes ahead with a mooted U-turn on letting Huawei help to build the UK’s 5G mobile phone network.
Mr Johnson (left) and Mr Sunak (right) disagree on a proposed new relationship with China, with the PM aiming to limit the UK’s economic dependence on the Communist state, with Mr Sunak wanting to protect the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis
At a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday, Mr Johnson unveiled plans for a new relationship with Beijing which would limit the UK’s economic dependence on the Communist state.
Medics and NHS bosses slam Matt Hancock for ‘rushed’ decision to make hospital staff wear masks and say they were not consulted
The Government was embroiled in a fresh row with medics last night after it was accused of failing to warn hospital bosses they would soon have to ensure all staff wore masks, before announcing the move live on TV.
Matt Hancock used the daily coronavirus briefing on Friday to reveal that from June 15 all staff will have to wear surgical masks on hospital premises, while outpatients and visitors must wear face coverings.
But NHS bosses and medics accused the Health Secretary of unveiling a ‘rushed’ decision without consulting them.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the umbrella group NHS Providers, said: ‘It is the latest in a long line of announcements that have had a major impact on the way the NHS operates, in which those organisations feel they have been left in the dark.
‘They are then expected to make significant or complex operational changes either immediately or with very little notice.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said: ‘It is extremely concerning to hear there has been no consultation with hospital trusts on how this will work in practice.
‘If we are to have confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver on this, they must be forthcoming on the details of how this will work.’
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hopson said that NHS staff ‘can’t do that job properly if they are on the end of rushed-out Friday afternoon announcements, they actually know very little about’.
Hospital bosses viewed Mr Hancock’s latest pledge as ‘part of a systematic pattern where there isn’t enough strategy or planning’, he said.
However, it was met with stark warnings from Mr Sunak that ‘putting up an economic wall’ risked hampering Britain’s GDP and slowing the crisis recovery.
Mr Sunak was heavily backed by Business Secretary Alok Sharma and the pair made ‘a forthright case’ for continued Chinese investments in a range of sectors including nuclear power and steel.
But sources within the top-level meeting of senior politicians and spy chiefs argue that Mr Johnson sided with ‘more hawkish’ Ministers such as Home Secretary Priti Patel, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who are pushing for a much tougher line on Chinese relations.
A source said: ‘The economic departments were obviously worried about their balance sheets and made that very clear. Rishi was reading from the Treasury’s script that we are all doomed if we don’t do as they say.’
But a defender of the Chancellor said he was clear that ‘we need to be more transactional with the Chinese’, but warned there would be an economic hit if we disregard the world’s second-largest economy.
Mr Sunak also disagrees with Mr Johnson over the terms of a new trade deal with America.
At a meeting on Monday of the XS Cabinet sub-committee, which thrashes out key Brexit policy issues, the Prime Minister rejected calls by Mr Sunak and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss for controversial US produce such as chlorinated chickens and hormone-filled beef to be allowed to enter the UK without being subject to high tariffs.
Mr Johnson, who chairs the meeting, sided with Environment Secretary George Eustice and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who called for UK farmers to be protected from the new competition.
Mr Johnson has set himself against traditional Treasury orthodoxy by rejecting calls for tax rises and spending cuts to try to salvage the public finances following the huge financial hit of the pandemic.
One Conservative MP said: ‘The sense among my colleagues is that Rishi is allowing more cracks to grow between him and Boris.
Government sources say that Mr Sunak (left) is allowing the cracks to grow between him and the PM (right), with the Chancellor’s approval ratings appearing better than the PM’s
The Chancellor (pictured) is believed to be keen on lifting lockdown restrictions as soon as possible, with the Prime Minister (not pictured) appearing to agree with his right-hand man
His approval ratings are better than the PM’s, which seems to have given him the confidence to push back in areas where they disagree.
‘The chatter about Boris needing naps of two to three hours a day has added to the sense that Rishi’s time could come sooner than expected.’
Last night a senior source confirmed that the austerity debate was ‘a very live discussion’ in No 10. The source said: ‘The issue is not so much with Rishi as with the senior Treasury mandarins, who are institutionally geared towards saving money.
‘But the PM’s position is that there is not going to be a repeat of 2008 by cutting public spending. His priority is to protect people and jobs.
‘This is a very live discussion in the building at the moment. While Rishi is alive to the human costs, the Treasury’s departmental mindset is geared towards austerity.’
Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Mr Sunak has been the leading ‘hawk’ calling for lockdown measures to be eased as quickly as safely possible.
While Mr Johnson was originally more cautious about lifting the restrictions – chastened from his instinctive liberalism by his brush with death – he is now understood to agree with Mr Sunak that the economy could suffer irreparable damage if the social-distancing rules are not relaxed more rapidly.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the leading lockdown ‘dove’, is ‘no longer in the driving seat in the issue’, sources say.
On China, an ally of Mr Johnson said: ‘The Prime Minister is trying to steer a moderate course between the China-bashers on the backbenches and those, such as the Chancellor, who worry about retreating into economic isolationism’.
A Government source said: ‘No 10 and No 11 are as one in their joint determination to steer the country back to economic recovery in the safest possible way’.
Downing Street said it was ‘completely untrue’ that the Prime Minister needed sleeps during the day, or that Mr Sunak had leadership ambitions.
British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet SUE the government over ‘irrational and disproportionate’ 14-day quarantine rules
Ministers have been hit with an unprecedented joint legal action by UK airlines infuriated by plans to impose a two-week quarantine period on travellers entering Britain.
British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair have joined forces to argue that the measure is illegal on the grounds that it is discriminatory, irrational and disproportionate.
The carriers say that the move, which is due to be implemented tomorrow, was drawn up without consultation and will destroy their attempts to rebuild their businesses.
A ‘pre-action’ letter, seen by The Mail on Sunday, highlights that while ‘weekly commuters’ such as French bankers travelling on the Eurostar will be exempt from the rule, British families going on their summer holidays will not.
Grounded airplanes at Gatwick airport as the airlines join together to stop the quarantine rules
Lawyers working for IAG, the parent company for BA, say that the Statutory Instrument laid down by the Government last Thursday to introduce the rules is so ‘irrational and disproportionate’ as to be rendered unlawful.
The letter points out that the 14-day quarantine period is more stringent than the guidelines applied to people who have tested positive for Covid-19, that the rules will not apply if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and that the controls will even relate to countries which have lower rates of infection than Britain.
The airlines have told Government lawyers: ‘The Government has failed to identify a valid justification for the blanket nature of the regulations.
‘The effect is to establish a wholly unjustified and disproportionate restriction on individuals travelling to England… and will inevitably mean that there is very little increase in the numbers of persons leaving and entering the country.’
Their letter adds: ‘The estimated proportion of the population infected with coronavirus is far higher than in other European countries…
Deserted runways as the coronavirus pandemic brings the UK tourism industry to a holt
‘The disparity is so great that it reinforces the fact that it is illogical and irrational for the Government to be imposing self-isolation on persons entering the UK from Union countries.’
They add that the regulations ‘cannot possibly be justified, since individuals arriving in the UK in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales or living in those regions will not be bound by them’.
The move comes after Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG, wrote to MPs to explain the damage the policy would cause to his business and snubbed a meeting with Home Secretary Priti Patel, the architect of the plan.
Mr Walsh said that the new rules – which some critics have called ‘crazy’ – had ‘torpedoed our opportunity to get flying in July’.
BA had hoped to operate about 40 per cent of its scheduled flights next month but is now reworking its plans. It is burning through £20million a day and has racked up an additional £800million in short-term debt.
The airline has also become embroiled in a dispute with unions over its plans to lay off up to 12,000 of its 43,000 staff.
Bosses see this as vital as BA prepares to shrink to cope with lower demand for flights even after the pandemic subsides.
In his letter to MPs, Mr Walsh said: ‘We find ourselves in the deepest crisis ever faced. A crisis not of our making but one which we must address.
‘We will do everything in our power to ensure that British Airways can survive and sustain the maximum number of jobs consistent with the new reality of a changed airline industry in a severely weakened global economy.’
On Friday at 4pm, airline and airport bosses were sent a 23-page document setting out the new measures.
The document, seen by the MoS, shows passengers will be asked to fill in a ‘Pre-Travel Passenger Locator’ form up to 48 hours before travelling.
Anyone who refuses will be denied entry to the UK.