Maskless anti-lockdown protesters marched on Downing Street today to demand an end to all Covid restrictions, as the Prime Minister was set to confirm a four-week delay to Freedom Day.
Activists held banners calling for masks and testing to be scrapped, with one describing the organisers as ‘a collective of the concerned’.
Social media messages showed the demonstration had been specifically planned to coincide with Mr Johnson’s announcement to the Commons about the fate of the opening plans for June 21.
Anti-lockdown protesters gathered outside Number 10 today to protest Covid restrictions as Boris Johnson was set to give his announcement about the June 21 reopening
A man gestures at a policeman outside the gates of No10. The Prime Minister is set to delay the reopening, to anger from Tory backbenchers
Activists held banners calling for masks and testing to be scrapped, with one describing the organisers as ‘a collective of the concerned’
It comes as furious Tory MPs lashed out at Mr Johnson as he looked set to delay lockdown.
He will urge Britons to be patient as he announces that the relaxation of Covid restrictions will be pushed back until July 19 because of the rampaging Indian variant, to allow more people to receive their second vaccine dose.
But he is set to offer an olive branch to some industries that will be worst-hit by the delay, including lifting the cap on the number of guests who can attend weddings. He is also expected to permit more outdoor seated spaces at sporting events.
The concessions come as Tory MPs join hospitality and other business leaders in venting their fury at the postponement, warning ti will cost firms millions of pounds.
The Prime Minister faced calls for a ‘break clause’ to cut short the lockdown extension after two or three weeks’ if the data allows it.
Health Minister Edward Argar refused to confirm the delay this morning, with the Prime Minister due to face the nation at 6pm tonight. But he defended the concept of a delay, saying it would massively boost vaccine numbers – with data showing that most of the most serious Indian variant cases have involved people who have not been jabbed.
‘Were there to be a delay, were that to be what the Prime Minister announces, we will see what he says and he will make a judgment if he were to delay it on how long by,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
‘If we are going at a run rate of about 250,000 to 300,000 second jabs being done each day, a month gives you roughly that 10 million, which closes the gap… 10 million you have got to do to get from 29 million to 40 million, so that all 40 million have had their second jabs.’
However, some hardline anti-lockdown Tories are furious about any delay at all, as they wanted the lifting of lockdown to be faster that it has been.
Former minister Steve Baker channelled classic war film The Great Escape in a message to Covid Recovery Group MPs last night, according to Politico, saying: ‘It is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape.
‘If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.’
And theatre impresario Sir Howard Panter warned the industry will suffer ‘significant damage’ if the final lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England is put on hold.
Social media messages showed the demonstration had been specifically planned to coincide with Mr Johnson’s announcement to the Commons about the fate of the opening plans for June 21
Protesters speaking with masked police officers outside the gates of Downing Street during the protest this morning
Conservative MP Damian Green has told the Westminster Hour that there should be a break clause after two or three weeks of the extension.
‘I get the point that because of the deltas variant the cases have gone up, hospitalisation has gone up a bit but not a lot and is below the level of some of the Sage predictions of a few months ago,’ he said.
‘So I think if there is a delay I hope it’s only for a few weeks and I think if it is as long as a month then there should be a break clause after two or maybe three weeks, to say that if we can tell by then that the rise in cases is not lading to a sort of rise in the serious illness that sends people into hospital, then we can unlock earlier.’
Ignoring a mounting revolt by Tory MPs and dire warnings from the hospitality and theatre industries, Mr Johnson will argue that scrapping all restrictions now is likely to fuel the surge – and the public needs to be ‘patient’ so the country does not go into reverse.
The PM will use a Downing Street press conference tonight to outline a delay in the relaxation of restrictions in an attempt to push forward with the vaccination effort.
Several hundred could be seen at today’s protest, which saw demonstrators march to Downing Street from the Houses of Parliament
A government source told The Times Mr Johnson considers it the ‘final stretch’ to extend the protection of the jabs as far as possible before normality can return.
Mr Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock signed off on the four-week delay, it was reported.
A senior UK government source told The Telegraph the message had always been ‘cautious but irreversible’, adding: ‘That has been our mantra throughout and that continues.
‘It would be far worse to have uncertainty and go backwards. It is better to be cautious and have certainty. It is one last heave. It is a straight race between the vaccine and the virus.’
Mr Johnson is expected to put the delay to the vote later this month. While it is likely to pass easily with opposition support, he faces a sizable Tory rebellion that will show the dept of anger on his own backbenches.
Boris Johnson (pictured today) is tonight set to delay Freedom Day by a month – to the fury of business leaders and Tory MPs