Analysis: Boris Johnson Throws Tory MPs Some Covid Red Meat To Send Them Home Happy

The prime minister surprised the Commons by announcing pandemic restrictions will be lifted a month early.
Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson
Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

If yesterday’s mini-reshuffle wasn’t enough of a clue, today’s announcement by Boris Johnson that Covid restrictions are to be lifted a month early was clear evidence that he remains in a fight to save his job.

The prime minister was accused of shuffling the deckchairs as he rewarded the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Chris Heaton-Harris and Mark Spencer with new jobs for their sterling efforts in keeping his internal enemies at bay.

It was a political circling of the wagons by a PM who knows that the danger to his premiership is far from over, but who is also unwilling to go down without a fight.

In the same vein, his pre-announcement of the government’s ‘Living with Covid’ strategy was designed to fend off any Conservative MPs who may have been thinking of sticking in a no confidence letter before heading off on their half-term break.

Johnson surprised MPs at the start of Prime Minister’s Questions when he said: “It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with Covid.

Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early.”

This was music to the ears of the Covid Recovery Group, the alliance of Conservative MPs who have consistently - and vocally - opposed many of the anti-coronavirus rules introduced over the last two years.

More significantly, they helped to co-ordinate the rebellion by 99 Tory backbenchers against the Plan B restrictions brought in by the government before Christmas.

At a time when Johnson needs the support of all the MPs he can get, keeping the CRG onside is a smart move. So far, it seems to have worked, with one member of the group describing the PM’s announcement as “unspeakably thrilling”.

In truth, there was no real need for the prime minister to make his announcement today, not least because the changes won’t happen for another fortnight. This was purely - and astutely - designed to keep his MPs sweet.

As one MP told HuffPost UK: “This will definitely send people home for recess a lot happier.”

It was also further evidence of Operation Red Meat, Number 10′s plan to save Johnson’s job by announcing populist policies to deflect attention from the partygate saga.

These also include tougher action to tackle Channel crossings, clearing the NHS backlog and the two-year freezing of the TV licence fee.

In and of themselves, these measures will not be enough to save Boris Johnson’s job. As the latest partygate developments showed, the PM is potentially one more damaging revelation away from having to vacate Number 10.

However, given the fact a vote of no confidence seemed inevitable this time last week, making it to the February recess intact still counts as a victory of sorts for the embattled PM.


What's Hot