Boris Johnson to hold 7pm press conference after Cabinet rift over new Covid rules

21 February 2022, 11:14 | Updated: 21 February 2022, 15:55

Mr Sunak and Mr Javid reportedly disagree on testing
Mr Sunak and Mr Javid reportedly disagree on testing. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson will hold a press conference at 7pm with all remaining Covid legal restrictions in England set to be scrapped.

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It comes after a key Cabinet meeting to sign off on dropping restrictions was delayed earlier after a "row" reportedly broke out between ministers.

Reports suggest disagreement between Health Secretary Sajid Javid and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, over testing.

No10 said it was pushed back while Mr Johnson was briefed, but the meeting was reconvened later.

The Prime Minister is now set to unveil his plan for "living with Covid" to MPs, before this evening's press conference which will also feature chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

Ministers had been expected to approve the new coronavirus strategy, in which England will become one of the first parts of the world to go without pandemic measures.

However, a government source quoted by The Telegraph described the delay as a chance for "ironing out some last minute glitches", while it was said Mr Sunak and Mr Javid were not seeing eye-to-eye over the scale of Covid testing in the future.

Ministers are now said to have agreed on a plan.

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Labour accused the Conservatives of causing a "shambles" and compared its Covid strategy to declaring victory before a war is over.

Wes Streeting, the party's Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: "The Government is paralysed by its own chaos and incompetence and the British public are paying the price. This shambles cannot continue.

"What confidence can the public have that the Conservatives are acting in the national interest, when they can’t agree a plan for Covid?

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"It is clear the Prime Minister was trying to declare victory before the war is over, simply to distract from the police knocking at the door of Number 10.

"Labour published our plan for living well with Covid in January. It would prepare us for new variants and secure our lives, livelihoods and liberties. If the Conservatives are too incompetent to agree their own plan, they are welcome to use ours."

It is not thought all requirements will be entirely done away with - reports suggest arrivals to the UK will still be tracked by filling out a passenger locator form.

But business minister Paul Scully told LBC that no decision had been taken on that, when LBC's Nick Ferrari pushed him on the wisdom of scrapping measures in England but continuing to keep tabs on arrivals.

Mr Ferrari said: "What are we keeping track of? These people arrived from Thailand or China, and then they just run up and down the high street without their masks on. But we've got their home address?"

Mr Scully said: "No, no, no. What I'm saying is that first of all, no decision has been taken on that.

"But what we will have as we peel back the restrictions, clearly we need to have a handle on what is happening in terms of variants, and a sort of like touch view on case numbers.

"No decision has been taken on that anyway. So that will be part of the wider discussion with the Transport Secretary as to what happens with that."