Huge crowd of anti-lockdown protesters gathers at No 10 over ‘Freedom Day’ delay

14 June 2021, 13:45 | Updated: 14 June 2021, 16:05

By Patrick Grafton-Green

A huge crowd of anti-lockdown protesters has descended on Downing Street over concerns the June 21 easing of restrictions will be delayed.

It comes as Boris Johnson prepares to put the final lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England on hold.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce a four-week delay to the end of social-distancing rules later on Monday.

The move follows warnings from scientists that the rapid spread of the Delta variant first identified in India risks a "substantial" third wave if it is allowed to spread unchecked.

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The large crowd of what looked to be hundreds of people were heard shouting "shame on you, shame on you" at the gates of Downing Street in an angry protest over frustrations about the continuation of lockdown.

Mr Johnson's expected announcement will come as a huge setback to many businesses - particularly in the battered hospitality sector - which had pinned their hopes on a full summer reopening to recoup some of the losses of the past year.

Furious Conservative MPs say there is no reason not to end the restrictions as those most at risk of death or serious illness are now fully vaccinated.

Former minister Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, claimed any postponement would be a "political choice".

He warned if the unlocking did not go ahead as planned, restrictions could carry on through the autumn and into the winter as other respiratory infections picked up.

"The effectiveness of our vaccines at preventing hospitalisation means unlocking on June 21 could proceed safely. Any decision to delay will be a political choice," he said.

"Variants and mutations will appear for the rest of time. We have to learn to live with it.

"If our very effective vaccines cannot deliver us freedom from restrictions, then nothing ever will."

Steve Baker, the CRG deputy chairman, questioned how long the country could "fumble along" with restrictions that had such "devastating consequences" for both business and people's mental health.

Conservative backbencher Marcus Fysh said delay was a "disastrous and unacceptable policy".

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer blamed the Government's "pathetic" border policies as being the likely reason for the expected delay.

Speaking during his monthly Call Keir with LBC's Nick Ferrari, the Labour leader said: "June 21st was supposed to be freedom day and why are we not going to hit it, and it looks like we're not?

"Answer: It's because of the Government's pathetic borders policy. Absolutely pathetic."

He added: "The inexplicable delay from the 9th to the 23rd April from putting India onto the red list with lots of people coming in and then on top of that mixing at Heathrow. Pathetic.

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

"Why on earth did they delay in relation to India?"

The Prime Minister is expected to make the formal announcement at a press conference on Monday evening after he returns to Downing Street from attending the Nato summit in Brussels.

After hosting the G7 summit in Cornwall over the weekend, Mr Johnson is thought to have spent Sunday evening going through the latest data with the senior ministers and officials most closely involved in the process.