Rishi Sunak was reluctant to agree to the second national lockdown in light of the threat to the economy and the huge £5 billion cost of furlough, sources said last night.
The Chancellor was one of those at the Downing Street meeting on Friday which decided to go ahead with new restrictive measures.
A source said there was a ‘collective decision’ to back a second lockdown, and that Mr Sunak ‘accepted it’ – and he did not threaten to resign, as some whispers around Westminster were suggesting yesterday.
‘There was a presentation from the scientists,’ the source said. ‘The data was put to them and there wasn’t a great deal to say.’
As of Friday morning, Boris Johnson was determined that there would be no second lockdown.
‘He really didn’t want to do it,’ a source told The Times. ‘He believed that the regional, tiered approach was the best. But the data was bleak and it became clear there was only one way forward.’
But the figures presented to he and Mr Sunak – predicting that the NHS would be overwhelmed – were so stark that it was not possible to argue against.
Rishi Sunak was reluctant to agree to the second national lockdown in light of the threat to the economy and the huge £5 billion cost of furlough, sources said last night (pictured: Mr Sunak on October 5)
Boris Johnson making his announcement of a second national lockdown on Saturday night
Mr Sunak was said to have been quiet as the case for lockdown was put forward by the scientists.
‘People are pretty clear on his views,’ one staffer told The Times. ‘He’s been warning of the economic fallout for months.’
The fact that France and Germany had both recently embarked on national lockdowns also made it hard not to go along with the recommendations.
Mr Sunak agreed that the full furlough scheme, worth 80 per cent of wages, will be reinstated for the duration of the second lockdown.
This could cost the taxpayer as much as £5billion over the next month. But there are fears the cost will rise if, as expected, the lockdown drags on.
Key points in COVID lockdown Mark 2
- Restrictions will start at midnight on Thursday morning and last until December 2.
- People can only leave their homes for specific reasons, such as to do essential shopping, for outdoor exercise, and for work if they are unable to work from home.
- Non-essential shops will be told to shut, although supermarkets do not need to close off aisles as has happened in Wales.
- Restaurants and bars will be told to close unless they can operate a takeaway service.
- Travel abroad is only permitted for ‘essential’ reasons such as work, people can still return to the UK from abroad.
- Leisure centres, gyms, sporting venues, hairdressers and beauty parlours will have to close, although professional sport will continue.
- Key businesses that cannot operate remotely – such as construction – should carry on as before with safety precautions.
- Places of worship can stay open for private prayer. Funerals are limited to close family only.
- The furlough scheme will be extended during the period of the lockdown, rather than ending tomorrow as originally planned.
- Exercise is permitted with no limits on frequency, but organised sports – including outdoor activities such as golf – will not be permitted.
- When the lockdown lapses the Tiers system will be reinstated, leaving questions about what metric will be used to decide whether areas can have restrictions eased.
It comes after a chaotic 24 hours for the Prime Minister which saw events appear to totally escape his grasp as he faced the country to announce the second national lockdown.
The timing was not of his choosing – instead he was forced to rush out the announcement after his plans were leaked from a secret ministerial meeting on Friday.
Downing Street officials were infuriated to read details of the lockdown in the first editions of Saturday’s Daily Mail, just hours after the decision had been taken by the ‘quad’ of Mr Johnson, Mr Sunak, Michael Gove and Mr Hancock.
It forced Mr Johnson to bring forward the announcement of the measure from Monday to yesterday, despite many details still being finalised.
The leak meant that the shutdown was on the front pages before the rest of the Cabinet had been told about the decision.
Cabinet Office Minister Mr Gove said today he did not leak details of the new coronavirus lockdown restrictions before the Government intended to announce them – nor did he know who he source might be.
Mr Johnson has launched an inquiry the find the source of the leak, but Mr Gove insisted it was not him.
Asked by Andrew Marr on the BBC if he leaked the information, Mr Gove replied: ‘No.’ Asked if he knew who leaked it, he said: ‘No.’
Mr Gove suggested England risked spending Christmas under a full lockdown if the four-week November shutdown fails to tackle the second wave of coronavirus sweeping the nation.
The Cabinet Office Minister raised the spectre of a gloomy December with pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops closed if the R rate does not fall enough, despite the closure being designed to help save the festive period.
Appearing on television this morning he defended Boris Johnson’s decision last night to plunge England into a full lockdown, despite previously calling it the ‘nuclear option’.
Here is how the bombshell period in coronavirus politics played out:
Friday, October 31
2PM: A senior SAGE sources briefs reporters that it is ‘not too late to save Christmas’ if a month-long full national lockdown is introduced in England.
They call for the closure of all pubs and restaurants and venues where households mix indoors.
It comes after a Government-led study by Imperial College London had been published showing that nearly 100,000 people in the UK are getting infected with Covid-19 every day.
Heat maps were presented at the press conference showing that the infections were spreading among older age groups
The REACT-1 project – which has been swabbing tens of thousands of people every week – estimated there were around 96,000 people getting infected every day in England by October 25.
French President Emmanuel Macron has already announced a second national lockdown until the end of November and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also announces a ‘lockdown lite’ which is less severe but includes the closure of restaurants, gyms and theatres.
3PM: Papers are released online from a SAGE meeting which show that advisers warned ministers on October 14 that the UK could be headed for a situation more serious than the scientists’ ‘worst case scenario’.
They say ‘we are breaching the number of infections and hospital admissions in the Reasonable Worst Case planning scenario’ and the outlook for Covid-19’s future spread was ‘concerning’ if no action was taken.
The SAGE papers warn that modelling suggests up to 74,000 people a day could be becoming infected in England alone, far beyond the worst case scenario.
LATE AFTERNOON: The all-powerful Covid Quad committee, which has taken all the key strategic decisions during the pandemic, met in the Cabinet Office on Friday, along with 20 experts.
Boris Johnson, chairing the committee meeting, fought what one source called a ‘valiant battle’ to keep the country open, ‘arguing with himself’ and endorsing many of his Chancellor’s hawkish warnings about the economic carnage it would entail.
Every time Health Secretary Matt Hancock made his arguments in favour of the lockdown, he was supported by fellow ‘dove’ Mr Gove.
Both Ministers were emboldened by France and Germany’s move into full lockdown.
The Prime Minister continued to back his Chancellor, until a chilling submission by Sir Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, which effectively condemned the country to another month of confinement.
EARLY EVENING: Downing Street is informed that ITV political editor Robert Peston has received a ‘read-out of the whole meeting’, according to the Times.
The Prime Minister continued to back Rishi Sunak’s hopes of keeping the economy open until a chilling submission by Sir Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, which effectively condemned the country to another month of confinement.
10.30PM: No10’s plans to shut-down England for at least a month have also been leaked to the Daily Mail and are revealed when the first edition of Saturday’s paper drops.
The Mail learns that SAGE told ministers Covid-19 is spreading ‘significantly’ faster than even their original ‘worst-case scenario’ prediction.
Downing Street is furious to read details of the lockdown in the first editions of the Saturday newspapers, hours after the decision had been taken by Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock.
The leak means that the shutdown was on the front pages before the rest of the Cabinet had been told and sparks widespread anger among politicians and business leaders.
Saturday, October 31
7AM: BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg reveals some of the information shown to the quad involves daily deaths could top 4,000
11AM: Boris Johnson calls an unscheduled Cabinet briefing to update furious ministers on his plans. With just hours to go he also calls a hastily arranged live television press conference for 4pm to brief the nation about his plans.
11AM: Downing Street launches an investigation to find the source of the story, amid reports that the Government had wanted to keep the plan quiet until Monday.
Multiple Government sources sought to pin the blame on Matt Hancock by accusing him of trying to ‘bump’ the Prime Minister into announcing the lockdown before he could have second thoughts. The Health Secretary strenuously denied the claims.
However, other sources pointed the finger at Mr Gove – the other ‘dove’ in the quad – and suggested that Mr Hancock was being made the ‘fall guy’ for the leak.
Mr Gove flatly denied the allegation this morning.
1.30PM: Cabinet meets virtually, with the PM dialling in from Downing Street. It lasts more than an hour
2.30PM: The press conference is pushed back to 5pm, suggesting that the lockdown plans are still being hammered out and argued over by ministers.
3:40PM: Mr Peston tweets a summary of the measures Mr Johnson will be announcing at the press conference, following the Cabinet meeting.
3.58PM: The BBC’s Nick Eardly reveals similar details about what is going to be announced.
4.50PM: The press conference is pushed back to 6.30pm.
5PM: It emerges that Mr Johnson has apologised to Conservative MPs and tells them that he will launch an inquiry to find the ‘culprit’ who leaked details of the new lockdown before his announcement.
Mr Johnson sends a message to Conservative MPs on WhatsApp to apologise and warn there are ‘no easy short term options’. ‘Folks – so sorry that you’ve had to hear about all this from the newspapers today,’ he wrote.
‘Let me assure you that the leak was not a No10 briefing and indeed we have launched an inquiry to catch the culprit. I had hoped to make the announcement in parliament on Monday but to avoid any further uncertainty I’ll now do a press conference from Downing Street this evening.
‘My team will make sure you have access to all the data and briefing from scientists you need in the coming days. Please speak to your whip if you have anything to feed in.
‘I assure you we are doing what we believe is best for the country and to ensure that the NHS is not overwhelmed in a way that could cost many thousands of lives.
‘There is a clear way out of this, with better medication and rapid testing – and the genuine prospect of a vaccine. Our country will recover well. But I am afraid there are no easy short term options. Best Boris.’
6:45PM: Boris Johnson, joined by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Patrice Vallance, finally fronts the delayed press conference.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty
The press conference runs for just under half an hour, cutting into the broadcast of the latest Strictly Come Dancing episode.
The broadcasters had already axed Little Mix’s talent show for a 4pm address, and when it was moved back to 5pm, a half-hour news special was put in at 4.30pm, hosted by Reeta Chakrabarti.
However, she was still presenting the programme at 7.13pm, so Mastermind was also axed.
7.14PM: Strictly contestants and production staff find out it was still going on air just seconds before the network started playing the introduction music at around 7.14pm – four minutes after the time it was originally scheduled to begin.
The press conference runs for just under half an hour, cutting into the broadcast of the latest Strictly Come Dancing episode
Sources on the show said that at one point it was expected that the show would be moved to a later day as no information had come from the scheduling department.
One said last night: ‘We had no idea what was going on. The time kept getting away from us.
‘It was total chaos. There were phone calls being made back and forth, but nobody knew what Boris and his team were doing so everyone on the Strictly team was left hanging. You can imagine the nerves backstage among the dancers.’
Fans on Twitter also poked fun at the situation. Broadcaster Matt Chorley wrote: ‘Of all the highly dangerous things this Government has done, f***ing about with the start of Strictly seems the most risky.’
Tory backbench lockdown hawks vent their anger at the new announcement.
Sir Robert Syms, an ex-Tory whip, suggested that No10 had not properly ‘audited progress’ made by the three-tier system which sees restrictions with varying degrees of severity placed on individual regions.
Sir Robert tweeted: ‘I am open to more measures [but] we have a regional approach which we have not given time to work. If we need to tweak it, fine, let’s measure what works and discard what does not. At the moment the Government is getting bounced into a change before we have audited progress.’
Desmond Swayne, the Conservative MP for New Forest West, described the move as ‘disastrous’ and accused Cabinet ministers of behaving like ‘headless chickens’.
Mr Swayne said: ‘Lockdowns make everyone poorer and poor people even poorer. I fear more people will die sooner than they would have as a consequence of the decision.
‘In a bad flu season 80,000 people die, but we don’t behave like headless chickens.’
Sir Charles Walker, the vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee, told the BBC: ‘There has to be another way of doing this. If you want first world public services, you need a first world economy.’
Could schools be next? SAGE expert warns classrooms may have to close to control Covid as Michael Gove insists they WILL stay open during winter lockdown – and Kier Starmer agrees despite backlash from unions
Keeping schools open during the November lockdown in England could mean infection rates stay higher for longer than when nationwide restrictions were first introduced in March, a leading scientist has warned.
Former chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport said the new restrictions were not as ‘severe’ as the first time round, and that there was a ‘possibility’ the restrictions may need to stay in place for more than four weeks.
In an interview with Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday, he warned: ‘It’s unlikely this time to come down quite as fast as it did during the first lockdown because we have got schools open.’
His comments were echoed by Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), who said transmission in secondary schools is ‘high’.
He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: ‘The big difference to the first lockdown is that schools remain open.
‘Because we have delayed the onset of this lockdown it does make keeping schools open harder.
‘We know that transmission, particularly in secondary schools is high.
SAGE adviser Sir Jeremy Farrar has said the Government may have to reconsider keeping schools open during lockdown if the transmission rate in secondary schools doesn’t drop
‘Personally I think this is definitely the lockdown to put in place now but if that transmission, particularly in secondary schools, continues to rise then that may have to be revisited in the next four weeks in order to get R below one and the epidemic shrinking.’
The National Education Union has called for the Government to close schools and colleges with the introduction of new national restrictions in England, saying that not doing so will mean the measures are less effective.
Its joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: ‘We think it is a real missed opportunity, it’s another half measure and, without school closures as part of it, it is unlikely to have the effect that the Prime Minister wants.’
But Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove suggested the Government wanted to keep pupils in classrooms even if it meant extending the lockdown.
‘I don’t believe it would be that case, but I do believe that we want to keep schools open and I believe that the measures that we are putting in place will enable us to do so,’ he told Marr.
Labour has said it supports keeping schools open, with party leader Sir Keir Starmer saying they ‘must stay open but we’ve got to manage the risk’.
Michael Gove, pictured on the Andrew Marr Show, has guaranteed schools will not close under any circumstances as part of the national lockdown despite concerns from SAGE experts
The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer insisted that classrooms must not close when England shuts up shop for four weeks from Thursday despite calls from unions that they should close
Sir Keir Starmer put himself on a collision path with teaching unions today saying schools must stay open during the next lockdown for the good of the children.
The Labour leader insisted that classrooms must not close when England shuts up shop for four weeks from Thursday.
Boris Johnson announced that schools, colleges and universities would be exempt from the four-week shutdown that starts on Thursday.
Schools will be responsible for ensuring they are implementing Covid-secure practices such as staggered break times, one way systems and mask-wearing in hallways.
Similarly, universities will also be allowed to remain open with social distancing measures in place and a mix of online and face-to-face tuition where it is safe to do so.
Students will be expected to adhere to lockdown rules while on campus and only leave their homes for permitted reasons such as for educational purposes.
It has yet to be confirmed whether students will be allowed to go home for the Christmas period.
Last night the National Education Union’s joint general secretary Kevin Courtney called for schools to be included in the new lockdown restrictions and said it would be a ‘mistake’ to allow them to remain open.
And the University and College Union (UCU) said it would be ‘incomprehensible’ if teaching continued in person during the new lockdown.
Told of Mr Courtney’s view on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show today, Mr Starmer said: ‘I want schools open, I think the harm to children from being out of school is too high – we have to manage the risk but it is a priority to keep schools open.
‘We need to make sure that they are as safe as possible. The government should put in place effective testing at school.
‘Put children, teachers and staff at the front of the queue in the same way as NHS staff to make sure we control it.’
National Education Union’s joint general secretary Kevin Courtney called for schools to be included in lockdown restrictions and said it would be a ‘mistake’ to allow them to remain open
Jo Grady (pictured) of the University and College Union (UCU) said it would be ‘incomprehensible’ if teaching continued in person during the new lockdown
Mr Courtney said not including schools and colleges in new lockdown measures would likely lead to the need for even longer lockdowns in future.
‘The latest figures from the ONS estimate that 1 per cent of primary pupils and 2 per cent of secondary pupils have the virus and that these levels have increased dramatically since wider opening in September,’ he said.
‘NEU analysis of ONS figures shows that virus levels are now nine times higher amongst primary pupils and an astonishing 50 times higher amongst secondary pupils.
‘The National Education Union called for a two-week circuit break over half-term to include schools, which the Wales Government and the Northern Ireland assembly have done – but the Government in Westminster has ignored this call.
‘More severe measures are now called for as a result, the Government should not make this mistake again.
‘The Government should include all schools in proposals for an immediate national lockdown and as a minimum be preparing for school rotas at the end of that period, including by actually meeting its promise to deliver broadband and equipment to those children who do not have them.
‘It is also vital that the Government ensure proper financial support for all those affected by lockdown including crucial supply teachers and other staff.’
Today, the NEU announced that more than 100,000 teaching and support staff had backed their call to close the schools.
Their demand was echoed by Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham who said schools should close as part of the national lockdown.
During a joint press conference with Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram, Mr Burnham said sending children to school, then sending them home ‘isn’t great’ and it causes more harm to the children.
According to the Manchester Evening News, he added that the government should reverse the cuts it made to schools and make digital teaching widely available.
Mr Rotheram said the Government had told northern leaders that 25 per cent of infections were transmitted in education settings – the same proportion as the hospitality setting.
Mr Burnham added it was ‘really important’ that the decision to keep schools and universities open should not just be accepted and that it needed to be debated in parliament.
Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham agrees with education unions that the schools and universities should be closed as part of the national lockdown restrictions due on Thursday
He also called on the Government to listen to Marcus Rashford and providing free school meals.
Meanwhile, figures put together by the UCU suggest that there have been more than 35,000 cases on campuses since term started last month.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The health and safety of the country is being put at risk because of this government’s insistence that universities must continue with in-person teaching.
‘It would be incomprehensible if universities were allowed to continue to do this after the outbreaks we have seen on campuses across the country this term.
‘Ministers must tell universities to move all non-essential in-person teaching online as part of any national lockdown.’
The body has been campaigning for a total shift online for some time, and previously launched a petition demanding that the switch was made ‘where possible’.
Announcing the new lockdown Boris Johnson said that the clinical advice was that school was the best place for children to be.
He said: ‘Our senior clinicians still advise that school is the best place for children to be.
‘We cannot let this virus damage our children’s futures even more than it has already and I urge parents to continue taking their children to school.
‘I’m extremely grateful to teachers across the country for their dedication in enabling schools to remain open.’
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England said the suggestion that schools would remain open was ‘very welcome’ and said it would be a ‘disaster’ if they were to close
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said it is ‘very welcome’ that schools would remain open and added it would have been a ‘disaster’ if they were to close.
Her comments were echoed by the prominent headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh, who said it was ‘wonderful’ that schools will remain open.
Ms Longfield wrote on Twitter ahead of the widely expected announcement: ‘Suggestions that schools will stay open during a forthcoming lockdown are very welcome.
‘We’ve always said that schools should be the last to shut & first to open. It would be a disaster for children’s well-being and education if they were to close.’
She added that schools have been able to stay open since September because of the ‘fantastic work’ they and teachers have taken to make them ‘Covid secure’.
‘Our survey of children showed children were delighted to be back at school, felt safe, and understood all the rules,’ she said.
And Ms Birbalsingh, who is headmistress of top-performing Michaela Community School in Wembley, north-west London, also welcomed the news.
She told MailOnline: I think it’s wonderful that the schools are staying open.
‘All children have suffered in terms of their learning but all the more so the disadvantaged and without schools being open I really fear for their welfare.
‘It is essential to keep them open. I’m very grateful that they remain open not just for the sake of the children but for my own sake. I get to work every day and i love that.
‘Well I suppose the unions will do what the unions do and the rest of us will get on with the job.’
Speaking of her own pupils, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, Ms Birbalsingh said they ‘suffered’ earlier this year when schools were closed.
‘We did Zoom lessons, we did video lessons, we used google classroom, our chlidren completed the work and attended the lessons.
Katharine Birbalsingh, the headmistress of top-performing MIchael Community School in Wembley, north-west London, told MailOnline it was ‘wonderful’ that schools will remain open
The NEU said not including schools would likely lead to the need for longer lockdowns in future. Pictured: a member of staff wearing PPE tests a student’s temperature as they arrive
‘But when they returned, you can’t test them on Zoom, it just meant that even though they were supposedly doing the work, but it wasn’t sticking and so it meant they had made very little progress, despite all of the boxes being ticked,’ she added.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson previously suggested students may be required to self-isolate at the end of the current university term in order to safely return home to be with their families at Christmas.
Earlier this week it was reported that more than half of secondary schools have pupils self-isolating as a result of Covid-19.
About 6 per cent to 7 per cent of state school pupils did not attend class for coronavirus-related reasons on October 22, according to the Department for Education (DfE) statistics.
Approximately 26 per cent of schools, excluding those on half-term, said they had one or more pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a Covid-19 case at school, compared with 21% the week before.
This represents 55 per cent of secondary schools and 20 per cent of primary schools.