International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the Government must “hold our nerve” after a Cabinet minister broke ranks to warn that lockdown cannot drag on.
Ms Truss was forced to defend the four-week delay to freedom day after her colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg said lockdown restrictions should not continue “just to stop the hospitals being full”.
Commons Leader Mr Rees-Mogg said there is a danger that Covid rules might “never end” if the Government insisted on stretching vaccination targets. It comes as Boris Johnson faces a significant Tory rebellion tonight when MPs are asked to agree to the extension of current rules.
Ms Truss insisted that the PM was extending lockdown measures to roll out the final stages of the vaccination programme, adding: “It’s to protect lives — that is the ultimate ambition.”
Asked whether Mr Rees-Mogg was wrong, she told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: “I never say my excellent colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg is wrong. He, like me, is a lover of freedom but we need to hold our nerve until July 19.”
Cabinet tensions over the extension were laid bare when Mr Rees-Mogg told his ConservativeHome podcast: “You can’t run society just to stop the hospitals being full, otherwise you’d never let us get in our cars and drive anywhere or do any of the other things that people want to do, so there has to be some proportionality.”
Labour support means there is no prospect of defeat for the Government but lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs are expected to vent their frustrations in tonight’s debate. Boris Johnson has said he is confident the July 19 date will be the “terminus point”.
However, a Whitehall document seen by Politico today outlined a series of recommendations apparently being considered by ministers on how the country can “live with Covid”. It reportedly includes some form of working from home in the long haul and anyone experiencing Covid symptoms being told to stay at home until they have a negative test.