Boris Johnson’s plans to lift the remaining Covid restrictions in England have been thrown into chaos after an extraordinary row between Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid.
A Cabinet meeting planned for this morning, at which the prime minister’s top team were expected to sign off on the “Living With Covid” strategy, has been delayed.
Chancellor Sunak and health secretary Javid are at loggerheads over plans to scale down the availability of free Covid tests.
Javid is thought to be demanding more money from the Treasury, but Sunak is resisting.
The bust-up is hugely embarrassing for the PM, who is due to make a statement to MPs in the Commons this afternoon, followed by a press conference in the evening.
Downing Street issued a press statement yesterday setting out the carefully-choreographed plans, which are now in disarray.
Johnson had been expected to announce the end of the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for Covid.
He is also due to set out plans to reduce the public’s access to free Covid tests after revealing the £2 billion a month cost to the public purse.
A source told HuffPost UK that Javid is refusing to back the proposed timing and speed of the scaling down of testing, as well as demanding extra funds for his department – a request the Chancellor is resisting.
A No. 10 source, however, insisted the Covid strategy would still be signed off today.
They said Cabinet had been delayed while the PM is briefed on other matters, including the crisis in Ukraine.
“Cabinet will be convened later to sign off on the living with covid strategy,” they said.
In comments briefed overnight, the prime minister said: “Today will mark a moment of pride after one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history as we begin to learn to live with covid.
“It would not be possible without the efforts of so many – the NHS who delivered the life-saving vaccine rollout at phenomenal speed, our world-leading scientists and experts, and the general public for their commitment to protecting themselves and their loved ones.
“The pandemic is not over, but thanks to the incredible vaccine rollout we are now one step closer towards a return to normality and finally giving people back their freedoms while continuing to protect ourselves and others.”
Responding to the Cabinet delay, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “The Government is paralysed by its own chaos and incompetence and the British public are paying the price. This shambles cannot continue.
“What confidence can the public have that the Conservatives are acting in the national interest, when they can’t agree a plan for Covid?”