Support 100 years of independent journalism.

How the 21 June reopening date became about more than data

The fear that delaying the end of lockdown will cause a political crisis is driving Tory MPs to oppose any change.

By Stephen Bush

The Delta variant (formerly the Indian variant) results in a higher rate of hospitalisations, according to a study by Public Health England. What does it mean for that 21 June reopening date? 

Scientists – including members of Sage, the ad hoc body which advises the government – are divided on whether the reopening can go ahead or not. Remember that there is still an awful lot we don’t know: not least what level of vaccination we will have by that date. 

One reason why, in Wales, the First Minister Mark Drakeford is able to say they are in a position – at the moment – to continue reopening is that their “lean” vaccination strategy means they have managed to put even more jabs in arms per person than in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

[see also: What are the lessons of Welsh Labour’s remarkable success?]

One of the defining and most consistent failures of the coronavirus strategy in England has been a reluctance to learn from elsewhere: whether that it is the success of the south-east Asian democracies in containing the spread, or even the success of Wales in speeding up an already pretty fast vaccine roll-out. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

But its most consistent failure is the inability to make decisions quickly about travel: that’s why the Delta variant is so widespread in the United Kingdom, and why the 21 June reopening date is in some doubt. 

The fear that a failure to deliver on time would result in a political crisis is one reason why Conservative MPs well outside the bounds of the usual anti-lockdowners privately believe that the 21 June date must go ahead as planned, whatever the data might show.