As he attempts to edge Britain out of the Covid crisis, Boris Johnson walks a tightrope and faces a delicate balancing act to bring everyone with him. He teetered on the advice of his senior scientific staff to enforce a second national lockout, claiming that only a full range of restrictions could stop the virus.
But Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who claimed that another national shutdown would be an economic catastrophe, pulled the PM back from the brink of a two-week’ circuit break.’ He has been pushed in numerous directions by his opposing science and economic advisors for weeks.
Mr. Johnson faces the demands and egos of Mr. Sunak and Professor Chris Whitty, his chief medical officer, as he seeks to balance the need to protect the economy and save lives. With doom-laden forecasts of the deadly implications of failing to impose tough controls, Prof Whitty has bombarded the PM. “With grim predictions of immense job losses, Mr Sunak countered, warning:” Our lives can no longer be put on hold. We have to learn to deal with it, and live without fear.
The performance of Mr Johnson in holding them both on board has been characterized as “miraculous” by colleagues.
“It’s a false argument to claim we’re facing either an economic crisis or a health crisis, a source close to Boris said:” It’s a false argument to say we’re facing either an economic crisis or a health crisis. It’s both, and the steps we took last week are a way of dealing with both. We’re doing our best to balance the two. The economy loses if we lock down too hard. Above all, the PM sits, listens to all the choices, and makes the grand decisions.
But as advisors struggle to get their voices heard, the fast-changing path of the crisis has led to internal frictions. 10 insists that the PM ‘s relationship with his Chancellor remained “hot, solid and watertight,” but the “warmth level” was “Arctic,” a Cabinet insider said.
Prof Whitty is said to have been “a little more relaxed” with the relaxation of sanctions, and it would be important to consider trade-offs to preserve the economy.
However, it is anticipated that if the 10 pm pub curfew fails to lower the infection rate, he will step up demands for a stricter regime.
“A source said:” Whitty admitted that the Prime Minister has the difficult job of juggling the various risks raised by the virus. But he knows that if this halfway house does not do the trick in three to four weeks, the balance will turn back in favor of stricter restrictions.
Last week, Mr. Johnson purchased the grim doctor’s advice and was ready to enforce a “circuit break” to avoid a second virus surge. Tensions escalated when crucial papers outlining planned action were submitted to the Treasury minutes before a critical meeting, leaving little time to plan a counter-argument for the Chancellor’s team.
Mr. Sunak was a lone voice at a meeting of senior Cabinet ministers opposing a second lockdown, but he pushed on. He also objected to calls for a lockout in London, pointing out that penalizing the capital for the actions of citizens in other parts of the world would be unjust.
In the next six months, Mr Johnson will have to execute more acrobatics to keep the key players on the side. He vowed to pursue science, giving Prof. Whitty and his scientific sidekick, Sir Patrick Vallance, tremendous strength.
They were called Witless and Unbalanced by Senior Tories and urged the PM to clip their wings.
Some claim the views of Mr Cummings were forged by the backlash he caused when he broke the last lockdown in County Durham to visit his parents.
It is said that Mr Cummings assured the PM that he would be able to bring the economy right in time, but if his acts led to thousands of preventable deaths, he would never be forgiven. “One MP said,” Dom was seriously wounded by the mess he made when he broke the lockdown and totally swung the other way around. But allies claim that in the past two weeks, Mr Johnson’s more liberal tendencies have been re-awakened.
One said: “He is trying to get the balance right and with two equally strong reasons for and against lockout, it was always going to be difficult.” By preventing more deaths and trying to keep the economy alive, all he has determined is on the basis of what will be best for the country.