Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

Boris Johnson has been urged by an influential Conservative MP to end all Covid-19 restrictions by the end of this month, or to face a massive uprising within his party and the prospect of a leadership challenge later this year.

Mark Harper, chairman of the lock-skeptical Tory Covid Recovery Group, said Johnson should announce by January 26 – when most current rules expire – that he will end it and never bring it back.

The former Tory chief whip told the Financial Times that Johnson could face a leadership challenge after May’s local elections unless he changes the way he functions and proves he’s still an election asset.

Harper said Johnson should promise at the expiration of existing Plan B rules – especially housekeeping work, wearing masks in public places and Covid passes – that they will never return, even if new variants emerge.

“The problem is that he kind of wants to agree with us, then he says he wants to keep restrictions in reserve or will not rule it out,” Harper said. “It is becoming an unsustainable position.

“If I were running a hospitality business, I would have been very nervous about investing, growing my business, taking any risks, because I literally have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Harper acknowledges that Covid will become endemic to society, but wants Johnson to address it through a new push to vaccinate reluctant people, creating special hospital wards and treatments, rather than locking them up.

“At some point you have to say, whatever happens, whatever variants come up, we are not going to respond by shutting down parts of the country,” he said. “This is not a sustainable position.”

Asked when Johnson should formally declare an end to Covid restrictions, Harper said, “If it is not now, when is it?”

He warned that if Johnson were to ask MPs to extend Plan B measures beyond January 26, he would face an even greater uprising than the one seen in December, when nearly 100 Tory MPs opposed Covid. passes voted.

“I think there will be even more people against it,” he said. “I think the intellectual argument is even weaker now.” He wants the remaining self-isolation laws, which expire in March, to be replaced by a voluntary approach.

Harper, who unsuccessfully stood against Johnson for the Tory leadership in 2019, denied that the CRG, with an estimated 70-80 members, was becoming a party within a party.

He said Tory MPs and voters – including those who elected a Liberal Democrat MP in the North Shropshire by-election last month – wanted to see a change in “how the prime minister runs the government”.

“What will happen depends on whether he does things differently,” he said. “Or we see proper discussions in the cabinet, the government working in a fairly conservative direction – where you do not look to the state for solutions to everything – and trying to keep public spending under control.”

Asked if he thinks Johnson will be in trouble if he does not change, and the Tories fared poorly in May’s local elections, Harper said, “I do.” But he added: “It’s in his hands.”

He said: ‘Conservative MPs will ask themselves: am I going to take my seat? They will look at poll and consider who the person is best at helping them retain their seats.

“Conservative MPs have asked themselves that question in the past and decided they should do something about it. Prime Ministers are on a performance-related contract. “

Nadhim Zahawi, education secretary, said on Sunday that Britain was making the Covid transition from “pandemic to endemic”, but accepted that “the next two weeks will be bumpy”.

Zahawi said it would “definitely help” if the minimum isolation period was further reduced from seven days to five days, but that it would only happen on the advice of the British Health Safety Agency.

The minister also told the BBC there was no immediate prospect of the government cutting back on free testing. “We do not call for an end to free lateral flow tests,” he said.

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