As lockdown consensus unravels, Boris Johnson divides nation and party
The prime minister’s new policy left Scotland, Wales and England’s regions in a battle for money and control – and gave the Tory party a huge ideological challenge
Only a few weeks ago Boris Johnson was invoking the spirit of Winston Churchill when he called on the nation to unite in the fight against the coronavirus. As he took the momentous decision to order the closure of pubs, restaurants and many shops on 23 March, much of the United Kingdom seemed ready to respond and rally round the flag at a time of crisis. Similar lockdowns were ordered in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Rival political leaders offered to abandon hostilities and seek consensus. There was talk of forming a government of national unity. Johnson’s ratings soared in the polls as voters heard the call to join a great collective effort. “We will get through this together,” he told the country.
That was then. Last week the short-lived unity fractured, and trust in the government in London started to haemorrhage away. Political leaders in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast began to resist and go their own ways in the fight against Covid-19. In England, open dissent started to break out in the regions. This weekend some council leaders in England have vowed to defy the government at Westminster by refusing to re-open schools on 1 June, as Johnson wants, because of fears for their pupils’ and teachers’ safety. The R rate (of the virus’s reproduction) is too high and the move too risky, they say, echoing the views of worried teaching unions. Yesterday Hartlepool council issued a statement: “Given that coronavirus cases locally continue to rise, Hartlepool borough council has been working with schools and we have agreed they will not reopen on Monday 1 June. Whilst we recognise the importance of schools reopening, we want to be absolutely clear that we will be taking a measured and cautious approach to this.”