Analysis: 'Freedom Day' delay was 'inevitable' - but who is to blame?

14 June 2021, 14:01 | Updated: 14 June 2021, 16:59

The last of restrictions were intended to be lifted on 21 June.
The last of restrictions were intended to be lifted on 21 June. Picture: PA
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

Next Monday was supposed to be the last hurrah for the last lockdown.

June 21st had been dubbed Freedom Day – the moment the final restrictions would be lifted and life would return to somewhere close to where it had been prior to the beginning of the pandemic 15 months ago.

In real terms, that meant a lifting on the last social distancing restrictions that prevent more than six people, or two households from meeting indoors, or 30 people getting together outside.

Nightclubs, theatres, concert halls, and sporting venues were all expecting the chance to open their doors to the public again.

But ahead of the Prime Minister’s press conference at 6pm, a delay is inevitable.

New daily infections have risen to more than 7,000, and extra time is needed to ensure the majority of the population is protected with second doses of the vaccine.

Given the pressure from his own backbenchers, the PM is likely to find – in the words of one of the SAGE scientists – “a compromise”, with the cap on weddings likely to be lifted from 30.

Understandably questions are already starting to be asked as to who is to blame for the situation we find ourselves in.

And after last week’s revelation from Health Secretary Matt Hancock that the Delta variant represents more than 90% of new cases, the decision not to immediately close the borders to India has come under particular scrutiny.

Indeed, Professor Paul Moss, who sits on Sage, told LBC this morning: "It's quite unfortunate. It's all about this new Delta (Indian) variant.

"If we hadn't had that, I am sure we would have been... easing off much more."

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader went much further, calling the decision not to place India immediately on the red list as “pathetic”.

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"(The government) didn't introduce hotel quarantine until I think February of this year… and then the inexplicable delay from the 9th I think to the 23rd of April in putting India on to the red list, with lots of people coming in, and then on top of all of that and mixing at Heathrow Airport of people on red lists and green lists.

"That is why we are here and the Delta variant has got in because of the government's pathetic control of the borders."

The truth is, however, that whatever Boris Johnson decides tonight, it will get through the House of Commons when it comes to a vote.

Sir Keir met with Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance earlier today to go through the numbers of where we find ourselves, and the projections of where will find ourselves if we do not delay.

But going by his previous form, then Labour MPs will be whipped to support the Government, meaning that any Conservative backbench rebellion, whilst potentially damaging politically, is ultimately nothing more than symbolic.