Lockdown easing analysis: Boris Johnson’s libertarian instincts returned… and he went further than anyone really expected – Evening Standard

Posted: June 24, 2020 at 6:41 am

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For all his talk of caution, there is no disguising the massive scale of the changes that Boris Johnson set out today.

In almost every area, the PM went further than anyone really expected . Dinner parties and sleepovers albeit without hugs or handshakes are a big stride towards normality. So too is the announcement that restaurants can serve indoors, not just al fresco, which will allow venues around the West End to reopen their doors.

Moreover, the Prime Ministers libertarian instincts returned to the fore in another key area, which is over the concept of risk. As he told MPs: Our principle is to trust the British public to use their common sense in the full knowledge of the risks, remembering that the more we open up, the more vigilant we will need to be.

This is a really fundamental change from the idea of safety first which underpinned his March announcement of the closure of the British economy. Then it was enforced by heavy-handed policing and the issuing of spot fines, now it is to be policed by old fashioned common sense and people will be responsible for their own mistakes.

Two things are clear. The first is that this is more true to this Prime Ministers natural political instinct, which is a laissez faire philosophy around social issues and a natural antipathy towards elf n safety laws. The second is that the great easing from lockdown is too complex and too varied for blanket rules to be applied in the way they were when the only imperative was to stop everything.

For example, Londons many thousands of restaurants come in all shapes and sizes. Some have medieval stairways, some sit in modern office foyers; some are in basements, others aloft in skyscrapers; some even move around on trains. Closing them was easy. But where to draw the line on which can open? A blanket two-metre rule would kill most. A one metre rule would invite danger. So, Johnson has chosen on a formula that also fits his Tory nature, which is a very flexible one metre plus rule that puts the onus on managers to assess the risks in their premises and take appropriate measures.

The PM's announcement was a big stride towards normality(via REUTERS)

The PM calculates that restauranteurs do not want to kill their customers, and diners will walk out if their tables look too close. My duty is to guide the British people, he said. Note the word guide and not tell.

Did he have Chis Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallances blessing for the changes? Johnson pointedly did not claim their backing but instead said they had been confident that todays changes would not cause an upsurge. In other words, it was his decision, guided by experts but not led by them. The PM no longer feels the need to use scientists as cover.

It was therefore fascinating that todays huge announcements were used as cover for slipping out another one, that the 5pm daily coronavirus press briefings will end today . No more daily questioning of Whitty and Vallance and senior ministers to see if they all agree.

It was also telling that the PM, who does not always look a picture of health nowadays, was on ebullient form in the Commons. He teased Sir Keir Starmer (who welcomed the statement broadly) with a joke about U-turns, clearly unabashed at his own recent record of three handbrake swivels. He openly scoffed at the devolved Welsh government rule of staying within five miles of home and had a dig at Nicola Sturgeon. To holiday regions, he urged them to roll out the welcome mat" and not the "not welcome here sign. Clearly, Boris Johnson feels more comfortable in his skin announcing freedoms rather than rules.

Primark in Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

A member of staff prepares to open a branch of H&M in Canterbury, Kent,

PA

Primark in Birmingham

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NikeTown Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

Primark in Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

Shop staff in face masks give a round of applause to the first customers through the doors at the Fenwick store in Newcastle

PA

Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

A doorman in a face mask waits to welcome back customers to the Fenwick store in Northumberland Street, Newcastle

PA

People queue for outside shops in Canterbury, Ken

PA

People queue for outside shops in Canterbury, Kent

PA

Primark in Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

A customer dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) in line to shop at Primark, Birmingham

PA

Primark in Birmingham

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Primark in Birmingham

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NikeTown Oxford Street

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Selfridges

Matt Writtle/Selfridges

Selfridges

Matt Writtle/Selfridges

A Harrod's 'Green Man' welcomes customers back to Harrods store in Knightsbridge, London

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Customers wait outside Harrods store in Knightsbridge, London

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Primark in Birmingham

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Primark in Oxford Street

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Kathryn Stanczyszyn

Kathryn Stanczyszyn/BBC

People queue ahead of the opening of Primark in Leeds

PA

Selfridges

Matt Writtle/Selfridges

A customer dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) in line to shop at Primark, Birmingham

PA

A customer carrying bags of shopping leaves Primark in Birmingham

PA

Primark Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

Primark Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

Shoppers in line outside John Lewis in Kingston

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Shops and businesses in Chelsea, West London prepare to re-open to customers

Daniel Hambury

REUTERS

REUTERS

REUTERS

Primark in Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

A member of staff prepares to open a branch of H&M in Canterbury, Kent,

PA

Primark in Birmingham

PA

NikeTown Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

Primark in Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

Shop staff in face masks give a round of applause to the first customers through the doors at the Fenwick store in Newcastle

PA

Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

Oxford Street

Jeremy Selwyn

A doorman in a face mask waits to welcome back customers to the Fenwick store in Northumberland Street, Newcastle

PA

People queue for outside shops in Canterbury, Ken

PA

People queue for outside shops in Canterbury, Kent

PA

Primark in Oxford Street

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Lockdown easing analysis: Boris Johnson's libertarian instincts returned... and he went further than anyone really expected - Evening Standard

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