Andrew Neil: 'Trust is not this government’s strong suit'

The lockdown delay "came as no surprise", says GB News' Andrew Neil

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Well, Boris bottled it. Again. Lockdown postponed from June 21 til at least July 19. The Downing Street spin machine had already softened us up for the delay so it came as no surprise. It might also be the prudent thing to do.

The vaccines have weakened the link between Covid cases and hospitalisations but they have not severed it. The Indian or Delta variant now accounts for 90% of Covid cases in the UK. There were over 42,000 in England alone in the past week. Hospitalisations have started to rise but from a low base. The PM is being told by his scientists that if the figures continued to rise at pace next week and the week after that then, once again, the NHS would soon be under pressure.

The fact is nobody’s quite sure about hospitalisations. The Delta variant is much more transmissible so many more people are likely to contract it. It seems that one dose of vaccine is only 30% effective against it. But two jabs increase protection to 80%. Which is why the PM wants more time to deliver 10m more jabs so that by July 19 pretty much most folks over 40 are double jabbed. Then he thinks it will be safe to end lockdown without risk of hospital admissions swamping the NHS or the death rate, currently very low, spiking.

So, yes, the goalposts have been moved. But the political calculation in Downing Street is that it’s better to pause now than reverse later. And that’s probably right. The latest You Gov poll reports that 74% of us are comfortable with a delay and only 24% are anxious to open up next Monday.

Mr Johnson thinks he’d be in a much worse position with public opinion if he opened up now then had to lockdown later this summer or in early autumn. As one of his aides said, that could be political suicide. The PM implied tonight that this was the last delay before restrictions were removed. But he’s indicated that before. Trust is not this government’s strong suit so you could be forgiven for not regarding Mr Johnson’s words as bankable.