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Sadiq Khan urges Boris Johnson to be cautious easing Covid lockdown

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Sadiq Khan today risked the wrath of anti-lockdown Tory MPs and hospitality bosses as he demanded Boris Johnson reject calls for a swift easing of national curbs. 

The Mayor of London urged the Prime Minister to ignore ‘shouting and hectoring’ from Conservative backbenchers as he prepares to unveil his exit roadmap on Monday. 

Mr Khan said Mr Johnson must ‘learn the lessons of the mistakes made in the past’ when the Government has previously eased lockdown.

Mr Johnson has said his roadmap will be ‘based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach’ to ease restrictions in ‘such a way as to be irreversible’. 

But many Tory MPs are adamant that the success of the nation’s vaccination drive should allow the PM to lift rules quickly.

Mr Khan’s intervention came after Mark Woolhouse, an Edinburgh University expert in infectious disease, said the latest data suggested there could be an ‘earlier unlocking’.

Meanwhile, an Imperial College London surveillance study – the largest in the country – found infection rates are halving every two weeks, with cases set to fall to 1,000 a day by the second week of April. 

Shaun Bailey, the Tory candidate running against Mr Khan in May’s mayoral election, said: ‘The Prime Minister has been clear that he will follow the advice of experts, not politicians — regardless of whether they’re backbenchers or Sadiq Khan.

‘So this was a pointless demand from a Mayor who has shown little interest in making things happen.

‘Instead of attacking the government, Sadiq Khan should work with ministers to support the businesses that are struggling in lockdown. This is what London’s businesses need.’ 

Boris Johnson, pictured during a visit to south Wales yesterday, will unveil his lockdown exit roadmap on Monday

Boris Johnson, pictured during a visit to south Wales yesterday, will unveil his lockdown exit roadmap on Monday

Mr Johnson will today reportedly receive a dossier of data which will help shape the final version of his roadmap out of lockdown.  

It is thought the document will set out a phased approach for reopening society amid fears hospitality firms may not be allowed to return to normal until as late as July.       

Asked if he expects the PM to display caution in the exit strategy, Mr Khan told LBC Radio: ‘I think it is really important, I know all of us are frustrated and want to get out of this lockdown as soon as possible.

‘But we learnt the lessons of the mistakes made in the past and I will give you some stats which give you an idea of the scale of the challenge we face.

‘Back in June last year when the Prime Minister announced that we would be coming out of lockdown… when you compare the numbers of people in hospital versus now, at the moment as I speak to you we have six times as many more people in hospital now than last June when lockdown was eased.

‘We have eight times as many people on ventilators in London now than last June and I’m afraid the really sad news, 15 times as many deaths.

‘So what I’d hope the Prime Minister would do is learn the lessons of the mistakes made in the past and when he announces the roadmap on Monday, make sure he follows the data and the science rather than the shouting and hectoring from his backbench MPs.’

Mr Khan said the ‘health of individuals and the health of our economy are inextricably linked’.

He added: ‘I am as impatient as the next person in getting our businesses reopened, supporting our businesses, but we have got to make sure this virus is properly suppressed before we do so.’

Mr Johnson is facing mounting pressure to speed up the easing of lockdown after he yesterday suggested pubs, bars and restaurants will be the final parts of the economy allowed to fully reopen.   

It is thought lockdown rules could be eased at four-weekly intervals after a ‘limited’ loosening at the Easter holiday, with the hospitality sector likely having to wait until early May for the green light to resume restricted trading. 

But Tory MPs believe venues should be able to immediately resume trading on Covid-secure terms at Easter, labelling the prospect of lockdown rules still being in place as late as July as ‘ridiculous’ and arguing it would be impossible to justify if the vaccine roll-out continues its success. 

Steve Baker, a member of the 70-strong anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, pointed to Professor Woolhouse’s comments to pile the pressure on Mr Johnson.  

He said: ‘Boris Johnson today rightly confirmed he will focus on ‘data, not dates’ for easing restrictions as our recent letter suggested. 

‘As Professor Woolhouse, a senior government scientific adviser, says, the data are looking so good that Britain may open earlier.’ 

There are growing fears that many pubs will close for good unless lockdown rules are eased soon. 

The hospitality industry has rejected the claim it is a ‘significant area of transmission’ and is calling for venues to be reopened at the same time as non-essential retail.  

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: ‘We know that hospitality businesses are safe and all the data has shown we are not a significant area of transmission.’

Richard Bailey, chairman of the Thwaites pub group, told The Sun: ‘Once again the pubs of this nation will be made a scapegoat in the reopening plan.’

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