Plan B restrictions to be scrapped as Boris Johnson plots fightback
Boris Johnson is set to lift Plan B Covid restrictions as he plots a leadership fightback in the wake of mounting allegations of lockdown-breaching parties.
Covid passports and work from home guidance are widely expected inside Whitehall to be lifted from Jan 26 for England, with an announcement as soon as this week, though some rules on face masks may remain.
Scientists appear to have provided evidence that offers support for the change, as modelling included in new Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) documents suggests that restrictions would make little difference to hospital admissions.
“There frankly doesn’t seem to be any other expectation at the moment,” a government source close to Covid policy said about ending Plan B restrictions on Jan 26.
The Prime Minister made no public comment on Friday for a second day running as new claims of government rule-breaches fuelled the political crisis facing his premiership.
Watch: 5 year old gives verdict on 'naughty' Boris Johnson
The Telegraph can reveal new details of the operation now under way to see off a rebellion against Mr Johnson’s leadership which went public this week with five MPs calling for his resignation.
Political allies who played central roles in Mr Johnson’s successful 2019 campaign to gain the Tory leadership and win the general election are rallying around to help.
Tory MPs are systematically being contacted to shore up support, with calls going beyond midnight in recent days, according to one person involved.
Sir Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist who helped secure Mr Johnson’s victories as London mayor and Tory leader, talked to the Prime Minister this week, according to two sources.
Sources estimate that at most only about 20 letters of no confidence in Mr Johnson have been submitted to the 1922 committee, well short of the 54 needed to trigger a leadership vote.
“He has bought time,” one said, referring to the Prime Minister’s apology to the House of Commons on Wednesday for attending a Downing Street garden gathering where alcohol was served during lockdown.
The primary focus of the team is how to secure Mr Johnson’s political survival through a probe into lockdown party allegations by Sue Gray, which is expected late next week but could be delayed further.
A source who has spent time with the Prime Minister this week expressed optimism that the report would find that Mr Johnson was not aware rules were being broken.
Cabinet support a glimmer of hope
Cabinet ministers made public shows of support for Mr Johnson on Friday, with Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, and Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, giving broadcast clips as well as Damian Hinds, the Security Minister.
There is a growing speculation that Downing Street sackings will follow the publication of Ms Gray’s report, with Mr Gove hinting at as much when he talked to ITV News.
“If there is a specific need for disciplinary action or for responsibility to be taken, let’s do that. Let’s do it quickly, but let’s also do it with all the facts in front of us,” Mr Gove said.
However, Tory whips, who are in charge of keeping party discipline, are watching the actions of Ms Truss and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor – both often tipped as potential successors – with suspicion.
Ms Truss held drinks with a small group of MPs in her parliamentary office on Monday and will be on the other side of the world in Australia late next week when Ms Gray’s report could drop.
Mr Sunak is one of a diminishing number of Cabinet ministers yet to give an interview backing Mr Johnson to television or radio broadcasters since the Prime Minister’s apology on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a new Savanta ComRes poll on Friday night gave Labour a 10-point lead over the Tories and its largest predicted vote share in almost a decade.
Covid cases fall below 100,000 a day
Documents released by Sage on Friday show that Warwick University modelled the end of Plan B on January 26 and compared it to adding in more restrictions, such as the rule of six and a ban on indoor mixing.
The modellers said it was “striking” that additional controls had “relatively little impact” on the peak level of hospital admissions, but could bring the overall epidemic under control more quickly.
On Friday, cases fell below 100,000 a day for the first time since December 21 and hospital admissions have now also started to decrease.
Downing Street has made clear that no final decision had been taken yet on whether to lift Plan B measures in England January 26.
It came as a new poll gave Labour a 10-point lead over the Conservatives and its largest predicted vote share in almost a decade.
A Savanta ComRes survey, its first voting intention poll since the so-called “partygate” allegations broke, put Sir Keir Starmer’s party on 42 points, up by five, with the Tories on 32, down by one.
The Liberal Democrats are on 11 points, the SNP and the Green Party jointly on four, with “others” taking seven per cent of the predicted vote.
The polling outfit said 42 per cent was the highest vote share for Labour since 2013, with its 10-point lead the best since April 2019.