Boris Johnson will face the wrath of MPs when he returns to the Commons after presiding over a series of U-turns that have soured Conservative backbench opinion towards the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
He will face critics from both sides of the House on Wednesday during his first Prime Minister’s Questions since Parliament’s summer recess began on July 22.
Along with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Mr Johnson will also later address the 2019 intake of Conservatives, some of whom are said to be “jittery” that they may lose their seats at the next election.
As MPs started returning, Mr Johnson insisted his Government has not been blown off course by Covid-19, but acknowledged that “sometimes it is necessary” to change direction in “response to the facts as they change”.
His defence came as a series of policy U-turns increasingly angered backbench Conservative MPs, with one describing events as a “mega-disaster from one day to the next”.
Questions remain over whether A-level and GCSE exams will be delayed next year amid continued disruption, and whether Portugal and Greece will be added to England’s quarantine list.
Scotland will tell travellers returning from Greece to isolate for 14 days, while Wales will do the same for those coming back from the island of Zante, but England has not yet decided to reimpose the measure.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson told ministers that in the last few months they have been “sailing into the teeth of a gale, no question” when chairing his first Cabinet meeting after the return.
He said: “And I am no great nautical expert, but sometimes it is necessary to tack here and there in response to the facts as they change, in response to the wind’s change, but we have been going steadily in the direction, in the course we set out, and we have not been blown off that course.”
He said there would still be “some turbulence ahead” and that things would be “difficult” on the economic front, while the need remained to “get this disease absolutely out of our systems”.
Many Tory backbenchers are frustrated by the Government’s handling of the crisis, with one senior Conservative MP telling the PA news agency his colleagues are “tired of the U-turns”.
He said there is an “element of calamity” and that there are Tories from marginal and so-called red wall seats that were won in the last election from Labour who are “getting jittery”.
“We’d like to be in a Government that has the impression of being competent, rather than lurching from one issue to another and then after a short time doing a U-turn,” he added.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, said the panel’s executives expect to meet Mr Johnson in the “near future” to relay the concerns of backbenchers.
He told PA: “I think there is a lot of sympathy (among Conservative MPs) for the fact it has been unprecedented, but then I think we mustn’t make other own goals.
“We may have a big majority but that still doesn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t be as competent as possible as a Government.”
The inferential committee of backbenchers is due to meet on Wednesday, but the Prime Minister was not expected to address them.