In Pictures: Coronavirus and Brexit dominate the year in politics

PA Reporter
·7-min read

Buoyed by what he described as a “stonking mandate” following the Conservatives’ convincing win in the general election of December 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson could not have anticipated such a rollercoaster ride in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise but it wasn’t the only thing occupying British politicians in this most tumultuous of years as it competed for attention with racial injustice protests, Brexit and lots more.

Here, we look back at the year in politics in pictures.

– January

Brexiteers held celebrations across the country as the UK officially left the EU at 11pm on January 31. This fired the starting gun for a transition period, during which the UK would remain in the single market and customs union.

Celebrations were held by some as the UK officially left the EU on January 31
Celebrations were held by some as the UK officially left the EU on January 31 (Andrew Milligan/PA)

– February

Boris Johnson’s former Tory leadership rival Sajid Javid was the biggest casualty in a Cabinet reshuffle. Mr Javid resigned over a disagreement with Mr Johnson about his advisers at the Treasury. He was replaced in No 11 Downing Street by his deputy Rishi Sunak.

Former cancellor Sajid Javid leaving his home following the Cabinet reshuffle
Former chancellor Sajid Javid leaving his home following the Cabinet reshuffle (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

– March

The UK was shell shocked as coronavirus spread rapidly around the world. The Government started holding daily televised press conferences with a rotating cast of ministers and officials like chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance, who would soon become household names.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill did the same for their respective nations.

Boris Johnson with England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty, left, and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, right
Boris Johnson with England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, left, and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, right (PA)

New Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the Government would pay 80% of wages for employees not working, up to £2,500-a-month, as part of emergency measures to protect jobs. This followed the Prime Minister advising everyone in the UK against non-essential travel and contact with others to curb coronavirus, as well as suggesting people should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres and work from home, if possible.

The Government faced calls to act sooner to contain the spread of Covid-19 but it was on March 23 that Mr Johnson addressed the nation from Downing Street as he announced a UK-wide lockdown with immediate effect.

Boris Johnson addresses the nation from Downing Street, as he placed the UK on lockdown
Boris Johnson addresses the nation from Downing Street, as he placed the UK on lockdown (PA)

– April

The nation held its breath as Mr Johnson was taken into intensive care 11 days after testing positive for Covid-19.

A man wearing a facemask at a bus stop reading a newspaper outside St Thomas’ Hospital in Central London where Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in intensive care
The Prime Minister was admitted to intensive care (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Johnson – who earlier in the year announced that he and his partner, Carrie Symonds, were engaged and expecting a baby – went on to make a full recovery and returned to work at the end of April just days before Ms Symonds gave birth to Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson.

A bouquet of flowers is delivered to Downing Street on behalf of Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, after it was announced that Carrie Symonds had given birth to a baby boy
Flowers were delivered to Downing Street on behalf of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, after it was announced that Ms Symonds had given birth to a boy (Yui Mok/PA)

Elsewhere, Sir Keir Starmer found himself in the extraordinary position, due to lockdown restrictions, of having to pre-record an acceptance speech before he knew if he had become the new leader of the Labour Party. Sir Keir beat off competition from Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long Bailey to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as opposition leader. Angela Rayner was elected as Sir Keir’s deputy.

Sir Keir Starmer delivering his acceptance speech after winning the Labour leadership contest
Sir Keir Starmer’s acceptance speech was not how anyone could have imagined it when the Labour leadership contest first began (Labour Party)

– May

The Prime Minister’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings faced calls to resign amid claims he travelled 260 miles from London to Durham while he was displaying coronavirus symptoms during lockdown, in clear breach of the rules he helped to shape.

Dominic Cummings is photographed by the media
Dominic Cummings became the subject of a major media storm over the summer (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Cummings resisted calls to quit after he kept reporters waiting before a bruising press conference in Downing Street’s rose garden. Junior minister Douglas Ross, who would later in the year replace Jackson Carlaw as leader of the Scottish Conservatives, resigned in protest at Mr Cummings’ actions.

Dominic Cummings answers questions from the media
Dominic Cummings answers questions from the media (Jonathan Brady/PA)

– June

Lockdown restrictions in parts of the UK were gradually eased as a political earthquake of a different kind struck.

The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being arrested by police in the US, sparked anti-racism protests across the world, including the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged the pain that prompted the demonstrations but condemned those who flouted social distancing rules while attending them.

Black Lives Matter demonstrators walking to Downing Street
Black Lives Matter demonstrators walking to Downing Street (Victoria Jones/PA)

– July

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £30 billion spending package aimed at mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic. The measures included an Eat Out to Help Out scheme to encourage customers back into restaurants, bars and cafes with a 50% discount.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak departs 11 Downing Street to deliver a summer economic update at the Commons
Chancellor Rishi Sunak departs 11 Downing Street to deliver a summer economic update at the Commons (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– August

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson faced resignation calls over his handling of A-level results – calculated by an algorithm after exams were cancelled because of the pandemic – which were considered highly unfair by many students.

Students protest in Westminster over the government’s handling of A-level results
Students protest in Westminster over the Government’s handling of A-level results (Victoria Jones/PA)

Meanwhile, Sir Ed Davey defeated Layla Moran to become the new leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Sir Ed Davey
Sir Ed Davey became the Liberal Democrats’ new leader (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– September

The Prime Minister said the UK was experiencing a “second wave” of Covid-19 as cases began to spike.

Boris Johnson heads to Parliament to appear before MPs to set out steps to tackle a second wave of coronavirus
Boris Johnson heads to Parliament to appear before MPs to set out steps to tackle a second wave of coronavirus (Aaron Chown/PA)

– October

Piecemeal local restrictions were replaced with tiered arrangements in England. After a high-profile battle between the Government and mayor Andy Burnham, Tier 3 restrictions were announced for Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham speaks to the media outside Bridgewater Hall
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaks to the media outside Bridgewater Hall (Jacob King/PA)

In a televised address at the end of the month, the Prime Minister announced a new four-week national lockdown for England, to be enforced from November 5 until December 2.

– November

Boris Johnson was quick out of the starting blocks to publicly congratulate Joe Biden after he defeated Donald Trump in the US election. The Prime Minister was subsequently one of the first world leaders to be contacted by Mr Biden following his victory.

Boris Johnson congratulating Joe Biden on winning the US election
Boris Johnson congratulating Joe Biden on winning the US election (PA)

On the domestic front, Dominic Cummings confirmed he will leave his post at the end of the year and was pictured walking out of Downing Street carrying a cardboard box as it becomes clear he had left the heart of Government.

Dominic Cummings leaves Downing Street with a box
Dominic Cummings leaves Downing Street with a box (Yui Mok/PA)

– December

The UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and a mass vaccination programme got under way.

Boris Johnson and Lord Frost
UK chief trade negotiator, David Frost looks on as Prime Minister Boris Johnson signs the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement at 10 Downing Street (Leon Neal/PA)

But the political year ended as it started in the UK with Brexit, once again, taking centre stage. As the end of the transition period drew closer, the UK and EU dug their heels in on negotiations for a trade agreement. Mr Johnson met with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels for emergency talks. A deal was finally agreed on December 24, with Mrs von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel formally signed the agreement, before it was flown from Brussels by the RAF to London where Mr Johnson put his name to it.