'Hammer blow': PM's Freedom Day delay 'devastating' for country

15 June 2021, 10:52 | Updated: 15 June 2021, 20:24

People have reacted angrily to the delay to the end of lockdown
People have reacted angrily to the delay to the end of lockdown. Picture: PA

By Emma Soteriou

The delay to Freedom Day until 19 July has sparked a national outcry and has been described as an "utter failure" by people angry at the government's decision.

Boris Johnson confirmed that the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown would be delayed for another four weeks at a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening.

The decision was made to allow time for the vaccine rollout to catch up, as the Delta variant of the virus has caused "serious concern". But Labour have criticised No10, saying the blame lies with them for not bringing in stricter measures at the borders.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds urged ministers to scrap the amber list on the government's traffic light system for travel, moving it onto the red list "with a proper hotel quarantine system".

He also said the delay to the reopening on 21 June was a "hammer blow to people across the country".

Read more: 'Kick in the teeth': business owners react to roadmap delay

Watch: 'Bizarre, unprecedented event' would be needed to stop 19 July, Gove tells LBC

The news has been met with an outcry with people across the nation and MPs on all sides criticising the government's decision.

LBC has been inundated with calls from people furious at the announcement.

Last night one contributor told Iain Dale the entire political class were "utterly ruining" the economy, hospitality and aviation industries.

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said in a speech today the blame lies squarely with Downing Street.

Read more: Pubs warn Freedom Day delay will cost them £400 million

Explained: Roadmap delay: What are the rules now?

He nicknamed the Delta variant of Covid the Johnson variant and said: "Freedoms we have missed for so long, seemed within our grasp. Families looking forward to big get-togethers, celebrating milestones; birthdays, children being born. Pubs and restaurants desperate to open up properly again.

"But last night’s announcement dashed those hopes. 'Freedom Day' was a promise made by the UK Government – and let’s be absolutely clear – the responsibility for breaking that promise lies squarely with Conservative ministers."

Read more: Health leaders 'relieved' by four-week roadmap delay

He also said: "The impact of what the prime minister announced last night is devastating but it was not inevitable. The Delta variant is here in such force because of lax Conservative border policy and the fallout from that chain of events is enormous. The responsibility for breaking the promise of freedom day lies squarely with this Conservative government."

Tory MP and Chair of the Covid Recovery Group, Mark Harper told LBC on Tuesday: "We should have moved on 21 June. Both of the vaccines are very effective against preventing people from going to hospital.

"I think we could have moved ahead perfectly safely on 21 June."

Business owners have also decried the government announcement to LBC, calling for further support to get them through the next month.

James Clark from Hook Norton Brewery in Banbury, told LBC that more support needs to be in place to ensure businesses can pull through the extended lockdown. He said: "We just need really clear messaging."

Stephanie Sirr, Chief Executive of Nottingham Playhouse, told LBC it's going to be a struggle for many theatre and production companies who've planed to reopen with a full house.

She said: "This can't go on forever. It's just not practically possible to make the quality of work we want to make without the corresponding box office income.

"It’s tough to look at other sectors opening up and say, 'theatre is pretty fundamentally safe – why can’t we be a part of that?' "

Andrew Lloyd Webber said on Twitter his goal was to "fight for the full and safe reopening of theatre and live music venues up & down the country" after the announcement.

There have been pleas for an extension of the furlough scheme in the meantime, as plans to cut support for businesses are in place from 1 July.

Boris Johnson also said yesterday that restrictions on weddings would be lifted, as long as people remained socially distanced.

Couples awaiting their big day were still disappointed with the news, including a bride-to-be who still does not know how many people she can have at her wedding when it is just 18 days away.

Another critic claimed the limit on dancing was "profoundly pointless".

As it happened: Protesters chant 'shame on you' as PM delays 'Freedom Day'

MPs were quick to criticise the latest decision too, with Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, saying it was "bitterly disappointing" and the Green Party's Caroline Lucas holding the Prime Minister responsible for delays.

Read more: Roadmap delay: What are the rules now?

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: "Many of our businesses are already struggling for survival, and the announcement today will add to their worry and anxiety.

"The planned reduction in financial support at the end of June could now have dire consequences for jobs and livelihoods, pushing more businesses in sectors such as culture, nightlife and hospitality to the brink of collapse.

"The government must now act urgently to extend economic support to all businesses who need it – including extending the full business rates holiday, the evictions moratorium and the existing furlough scheme until all restrictions are lifted.

"It’s also important that ministers continue to accelerate the rollout of the vaccines so that restrictions can be lifted as soon as possible.

"Every person who gets the vaccine and continues to follow the rules will take us a step closer to the full re-opening we all desperately want to see."