How Boris Johnson Sided With “Doves” Over “Hawks” To Slow The UK’s Exit From Lockdown

The cabinet's "doves" claimed victory in a month-long battle that spread to the top of the government, ensuring more cautious relief coronavirus blocking measures than those sought after by “hawks” who wanted a quick lifting of restrictions.

Prior to Boris Johnson's speech to the nation on Sunday night, where he will provide details of a “roadmap” for the gradual relaxation of blocking measures, BuzzFeed News may reveal details of the deeply politicized and sometimes heated debate in Downing Street, office and the broader conservative party that has taken place behind the scenes since the prime minister was discharged from the hospital.

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It can be revealed that:

• Some senior advisers at number 10, cabinet ministers, senior civil servants and "a clear majority" of conservative parliamentarians had initially pushed for a "rival" exit strategy, arguing in particular that the blockade should be lifted more quickly than Johnson will announce tomorrow.

• But when Johnson returned after being hospitalized with the virus, he chose to support another group of Downing Street advisers, senior ministers and officials who called for a "safety first" approach. The opinion of his chief adviser Dominic Cummings has also been in favor of this position in recent weeks.

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• Most blocking measures will remain in effect after Sunday, with gradual changes in the number of times people can leave their homes and move to open spaces, followed by a staggered suspension of other restrictions, reopening of schools and the economy in general in the following weeks if the main data improves.

• Senior ministers expressed fury at what has been described as "weeks of insane instructions" to the media, accusing government hawks of trying to force Johnson to relax further measures, and claiming that some newspapers were following an anti-block agenda due to sales fears.

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When the prime minister presides over a meeting of his top team on Sunday to finalize his announcement to the country that night, he will face a cabinet, Downing Street and a party that was motivated by disagreements about what to do.

Johnson, who in March was initially extremely reluctant to impose a blockade on Britain that went against his instinctively liberal political ideology, is now one of the most reluctant to lift it, sources told BuzzFeed News.

Although criticized by opposition figures for being "too slow" to enter confinement, the prime minister is now one of the main doves – a group of conservatives who want to prioritize preventing a second wave of infections rather than reopening the economy and end restrictions on people's daily lives.

The doves believe they have postponed the general pace of how restrictions will be reduced by about two to three weeks, compared to the provisional plans worked out by Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill and cabinet officials while Johnson was in the hospital.

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The most vocal member of this most cautious group was Health Secretary Matt Hancock, whose internal positioning and handling of government testing and tracking policies put him deeply at odds with some falcon consultants on Downing Street.

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Hancock has received several negative messages from government figures, including a Sunday Times report calling him "Matt Handjob" and a front page of the Telegraph that cited Downing Street sources who beat his 100,000 tests a day.

The main argument put forward by the doves for a slower easing of the measures is that the data shows that the UK is simply not ready to get out of the blockade.

The most recent expert advice from the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) is that the number of new daily cases is still too high to withstand any significant lifting of restrictions without causing an immediate second spike in infections.

More than a more limited survey of some measures, it would risk sending the reproduction number – R0 – back to a number above, which SAGE said would cause the virus to spread again out of control.

Although the UK's ability to test for coronavirus cases has improved, its ability to come in contact with traces remains inadequate to speed up the blockade.

SAGE said the government needs to be able to test all new cases, track everyone they have been in contact with, test them as well and then isolate those who have the virus. The government is currently "weeks" from being able to do so, experts said, and SAGE has warned that it is not safe to release measures drastically until then.

"The last thing we want is a Chuckle Brothers situation with me, where we need to get in and out of confinement," said a Whitehall source, adding that ministers will look closely at what happens to Germany as restrictions are eased. .

The serological data collected in the past two weeks has also worried government experts. Although chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said in March that he expected about 60% of the population to contract the virus, achieving "herd immunity", it is currently believed that the percentage of people who have it is in their teens or teens. low. tall unique figures. It also increases the possibility of an extremely deadly second wave.

Dominic Cummings, who at the start of the pandemic would have endorsed the controversial approach to herd immunity, has also become more puffy in recent weeks, allies of the prime minister's chief aide said.

At a meeting, Cummings told colleagues he was reading about how the countries that lifted their blockades after the Spanish flu in 1918 were hit by second waves that had a greater economic impact than those that kept their restrictions in place. This "conversion" in favor of the ongoing blockade surprised some present.

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