Boris Johnson’s biggest headache as he charts a course out of lockdown? His own backbenchers. The ever-increasing list of Conservative backbench groups are a consistent thorn in the side of government whips with many MPs now used to rebellion. So it seems with the roadmap out of lockdown that the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons today.
Mark Harper, the chair of the Covid Recovery Group, pressed Johnson on why lockdown restrictions will not be lifted once priority groups one to nine have been vaccinated. Harper and more than 60 Conservative MPs have called for all domestic legal restrictions, not including government guidance, to be lifted at the end of April. Though they welcomed the opening of schools on 8 March, the government’s roadmap did not seem to placate their demands for a quicker return to normal.
While the government says it is focused on “data not dates”, the roadmap clearly revolves around dates for the earliest lifting of measures and a gap of five weeks between the stages. The Prime Minister said that the gap was to measure the effect of each stage of relaxation, but some Conservative MPs think the possibility for early opening should be left on the table.
The roadmap also ignored demands for hospitality to be opened for Easter which seemed to exercise MPs such as Iain Duncan Smith who called for Johnson to look again at opening the hospitality sector indoors.
Though Labour will support the government’s roadmap – and therefore it will likely pass through parliament – the Prime Minister will be hoping to gain the support of Conservative backbenchers, many of whom rebelled against the tier system in December. Unless Tory MPs are assuaged by the government’s release of strict criteria for each stage of unlocking, Johnson can expect further calls from MPs for a quicker and deeper reopening.