Boris Johnson urged to lift Covid lockdown soon or face leadership challenge

Daniel O'Mahony
·3-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has been warned by a senior Tory backbencher that his leadership will be “on the table” if the UK remains in a cycle of coronavirus lockdowns.

Steve Baker, who was influential in Theresa May’s downfall, has written to fellow members of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group asking them put pressure on the Tory chief whip over the issue.

He warned that unless the issue was dealt with now it would become a matter of leadership, adding: “If we don’t act now, evens will become inevitable”.

In the letter to colleagues he wrote: “I am sorry to have to say this again and as bluntly as this: it is imperative you equip the Chief Whip today with your opinion that debate will become about the PM’s leadership if the Government does not set out a clear plan for when our full freedoms will be restored, with a guarantee that this strategy will not be used again next winter.”

Railing against the prospect of increased coronavirus restrictions, Mr Baker said: “If we continue forward with a strategy that hammers freedom, hammers the private sector, hammers small business owners and hammers the poor, inevitably the Prime Minister’s leadership will be on the table: we strongly do not want that after all we have been through as a country.”

Watch: Sir Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of sitting on his hands as COVID ripped through country

As it appeared ministers were prepared to approve new coronavirus measures, he said: “I am sorry to be blunt but if we do not act now, events will become inevitable. For the good of the country please contact the Chief Whip.

“We must take stock today and act now to avoid severe problems a little later.

“Certain Government scientists have said that ‘the current lockdown could last until late spring’. There is no reason to think there will be any real resistance in Cabinet to the argument for greater and longer and more draconian restrictions on the public.

“This could be a disaster. Nothing seems more certain to break the public than giving hope before taking it away, and doing it repeatedly.”

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

It comes after England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam, suggested that lockdown measures could be in place until late spring.

Mr Baker wrote: “Government has adopted a strategy devoid of any commitment to liberty without any clarification about when our most basic freedoms will be restored and with no guarantee that they will never be taken away again.

“People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership because they are not standing up for our values as a party.”

However, soon after the contents of the letter emerged on Thursday, Mr Baker took to Twitter to give an effusive endorsement of Mr Johnson’s premiership.

“What this country needs is the complete success of @BorisJohnson, with his excellent EU deal, a successful vaccination programme and a #Road2Recovery back to freedom,” he wrote.

“I am clear Boris is the only person to lead us out of these difficulties and I support him in that endeavour.”

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