STEPHEN GLOVER: The two upcoming tests that will prove if Boris Johnson is just swagger


These are crucial weeks for Boris Johnson. Crucial for the country too. We are caught in a perfect storm of a possible no-deal Brexit and a seemingly resurgent pandemic.

On Brexit, we may be heading for a deal that will avoid the dangers of No Deal. But we are not there yet, and in the coming days the Prime Minister will have to decide whether or not to accept an inevitable compromise.

Covid-19, despite the recent lockdown, is making a comeback in many parts of the country, including London and the South East. Things don’t look so bright in the independent strongholds of Wales and Scotland either.

These are crucial weeks for Boris Johnson. Crucial for the country too. We’re caught in a perfect storm of a possible No Deal Brexit and a seemingly resurgent pandemic

Each of these challenges could derail the strongest and most capable leader. Together, they present a test that is probably more arduous than that faced by a peacetime British Prime Minister.

Is Boris up to the task? I admit that my opinion is changing. I admire the way he refused to be pushed around by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. He looked like a PM one could be proud of.

The unanswered question is whether he will recognize when a compromise becomes desirable. Does he really think Britain would “prosper mightily” without a deal? He can’t know. This is a meaningless claim.

And Covid? Until his press conference yesterday afternoon, I had wanted to. There was reason to believe that he had finally stood up to the evil scientists as he was under attack from all sides.

Pictured: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Pictured: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Increasingly opportunistic Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer hit him at PM’s Question Time, accusing Mr Johnson of ignoring medical advice. Sir Keir was far too slippery to say if he would allow the five-day rules to be relaxed.

In recent days, scientists have lined up to criticize Boris. According to the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal in a rare joint editorial, “the government is about to make a major mistake that will cost many lives.” Pretty extreme stuff from two normally restricted posts.

Even public opinion may not be on his side. A YouGov poll of 3,856 adults – a large sample – found that 57 percent of respondents believe the current rules should not be suspended over Christmas.

So people asked him to “cancel Christmas”. It appeared from various reports in yesterday’s newspapers that he was determined not to be bullied. He would give us the interlude that he had promised.

Trucks queue on the A20 road to enter the port of Dover to embark on ferries to Europe

Trucks queue on the A20 road to enter the port of Dover to board ferries to Europe

In fact, he stuck to his guns during the press conference – but only fair. With Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (aka Professor Gloom) by his side, he urged us to enjoy a “Merry Little Christmas” involving as little travel or overnight stays as possible. We have been told to exercise “extreme caution”.

None of this sounded like much fun. While one had hoped to be able to celebrate people’s freedom to decide what to do for five short days, he seemed nervous and disheartened. If we wanted a pleasant Christmas, we would have to wait until next year.

On the other hand, he only offered us advice. They were recommendations. Unlike the dismal Premier of Wales, Mark Drakeford, Mr Johnson has not proposed any new laws to compel us to behave at Christmas. Of course, he may not have pushed such legislation through the increasingly rebellious backbench Conservative MPs.

One could add that because millions of people have already taken trips and other plans for Christmas, it was too late in the day for the government to reverse the relaxation of the rules during the holiday season by changing the law. .

Joyce Dowd, 94, receives first of two injections with one dose of Pfizer / BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine

Joyce Dowd, 94, receives first of two injections with a dose of Pfizer / BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine

In defense of the Prime Minister, it is true that he said that it would be “frankly inhuman” to “ban Christmas”. Totalitarian could have been a better word. I hope the Christmas “ban” has never been on the government’s agenda.

I felt like a man who made the most of a bad job. He would have preferred not to have championed the idea of ​​a brief respite several weeks ago in the midst of the lockdown when it was hoped that infection rates would be lower than they turned out to be.

In other words, as so often in this crisis, it seems to be event driven. He does the right thing – letting us go through our brief experience of freedom, while trying to get our flesh moving in the process. But he didn’t free himself from Professor Whitty and the scientists. They are still in charge.

How long can this last? Mr Drakeford yesterday announced a foreclosure in Wales immediately after Christmas. Professor Whitty said the partial suspension of the rules, even with all of the government’s terrible warnings and advice, “would lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths.” It is highly likely that the government will order another lockdown in England in January.

Not that the previous lockout, which ended in early December, appears to have had much effect in containing rising infection rates in London and the south-east.

Another lockdown would deal more damage to an already weakened economy. No more unemployment, no more canceled operations, no more mental health problems, no more bankrupt businesses. Public finances, already under unprecedented pressure outside the war, would suffer another blow, possibly disastrous.

And yet we can be virtually certain that it will be proposed because this country is run by the Department of Health and scientists (with cynical backing from Labor) rather than the government on the advice of practical economists.

Don’t we have a vaccine that could save us? So they say. But there are indications that it might not be made available as quickly as it should. According to the National Audit Office, less than half of the population will be vaccinated by the end of next year.

The test for Boris is whether he is content to follow a script written by professors like Gloom and Doom – or whether he is ready to take on the slamming train and instill the confidence and conviction that this country has. desperately needed.

Over the past few weeks, Mr Johnson has often seemed a more substantial figure, at least in his dealings with Ursula von der Leyen and the EU. He is finally his own man. Maybe it’s because he no longer has Dominic Cummings telling him what to do.

By the way, it is absolutely outrageous that Cummings received a pay raise of around £ 45,000, or around 50% of his salary, last year. This is an absurd reward for a man who, having violated the lockdown – without any subsequent manifestation of contrition – has caused untold damage to the Prime Minister.

Does Boris realize it? I do not know. He sometimes seems so generously disposed and boisterous while not always being fully engaged in serious government business.

This is his moment – and the future of the country. If Boris can get us out of this nightmare pandemic rather than being led by scientists, and if he can strike an honorable deal with the EU, that will be a magnificent achievement. We’ll soon find out if he’s up to the task.


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