Mixed Messages: Boris Johnson Holds Virtual Cabinet Before Commons Covid Vote

The public is still being told not to cancel Christmas parties despite the prime minister warning that a “huge spike” of Omicron is coming.
Johnson speaks during the first post-reshuffle cabinet meeting in Downing street, on September 17, 2021.
Johnson speaks during the first post-reshuffle cabinet meeting in Downing street, on September 17, 2021.
BEN STANSALL via Getty Images

Boris Johnson’s Cabinet returned to virtual meetings today before MPs cram into the Commons to vote on Covid measures.

For the first time in months, the prime minister met with his most senior ministers virtually - after he advised the public to work from home.

He also warned his top team that a “huge spike” of Omicron is coming amid thousands of new confirmed cases.

Despite the stark warning, No10 still insisted that people should not cancel their Christmas parties.

The government’s messaging has enraged hospitality businesses that are facing cancellations by spooked customers.

The boss of the Confederation of British Industry said the current messages from government were having a “chilling effect” on sectors of the economy.

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “Cabinet was told that the new variant continues to spread at a concerning rate with almost 4,500 cases confirmed across the UK, 10 hospitalisations and sadly one death of an individual confirmed with Omicron.”

Asked why Cabinet met virtually, he replied: “In light of increasing number of cases and our advice [to] work from home when possible, it made sense to do this remote.”

Pressed on whether this was inconsistent when hundreds of MPs will cram into division lobbies later today and if they would consider virtual voting, he replied: “My understanding is that the speaker has been working with the leader on measures in place for voting.

“I don’t have a full detail but I believe they might be expanding the time allowed for votes. I’d refer you to them for more detail on the mitigation measures they’re taking.”

Asked if people should still go ahead with Christmas parties, he said their position “hasn’t changed” and encouraged anyone going to a party to get tested beforehand.

Tony Danker, director-general of the CBI, warned that government messaging was effectively shutting down parts of the economy.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It seems to us that whilst we have measures to keep the economy open, we have messages that have ended up closing much of it down.

“People should be worried enough to go and get a booster urgently, but not so worried to stop going to shops, restaurants or airports.

“That’s what’s not working, you have a double whammy for businesses in those sectors, hospitality, retail, leisure or travel, where demand is collapsing and there’s no support to recover.

“So, whilst we all support the booster campaign, and I urge all employees to get their booster, the unintended consequence has been a really rather chilling effect on demand in a lot of sectors in our economy.”


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