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Confusion Over Covid Policy Forces Boris Johnson To Delay Sign Off Of New Rules At The Last Minute

Boris Johnson Rishi Sunak Sajid Javid

3 min read

The revamped Number 10 operation is accused of being in chaos after a row between the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) over plans to do away with Covid restrictions forced the Prime Minister to delay a Cabinet meeting where the plans were due to be signed off.

Cabinet ministers were expected to meet at 10am on Monday to agree on the government's heavily-trailed plans to "live" with Covid-19, which are set to include ending mandatory self-isolation and scaling back the provision of free tests to the general public. 

Two government sources told PoliticsHome this morning that the meeting had unexpectedly been postponed until later in the day, with Downing Street later confirming that it would now take place this afternoon over Zoom.

This morning's meeting was postponed just ten minutes before it was set to get underway and some ministers were already in10 Downing Street waiting for it to begin, according to The Times.

A Downing Street spokesperson insisted that it had been delayed due to briefings on the Ukraine crisis and refused to comment on widespread reports that the delay was down to a disagreement between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid over funding relating to the revised regulations.

Javid and Sunak were at loggerheads over how much money DHSC would get for Covid testing, with the Health Secretary thought to have been pushing for additional funding on top of the department's existing budget. Following the postponement of this morning's meeting, a source close to Javid confirmed that they had not yet reached an agreement, despite Johnson intending to get the plans signed off at Cabinet ahead of his Commons statement this afternoon. 

Conservative MPs expressed disbelief that ministers had not reached an agreement on this element of the government's "living with Covid" plans prior to this morning's Cabinet meeting.

A senior Tory who backed Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest told PoliticsHome: “This was one of the first major tests for the new Number 10 operation that was supposed to address the concerns of Conservative MPs, but they have flunked it."

They added: “We remain ready to judge the content of the living with Covid plan in good faith, but the fact that the Cabinet was not only bounced into a meeting at the last minute, but then had their meeting delayed due to a long-running disagreement inside government that hadn’t been resolved, goes to prove that Number 10 is still not up to the job".

Another Tory and ex-health minister acknowledged that the question of who should continue to be eligible for free Covid tests, which was expected to be clarified in a statement by Johnson this afternoon, was tricky a one — but one that should have been resolved prior the Cabinet meeting.

Wes Streeting, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, accused Johnson of rushing through the Covid policy in order to distract from the ongoing 'partygate' scandal, with the Met Police expected to release its report into the Downing Street lockdown parties in the coming weeks.

"The government is paralysed by its own chaos and incompetence and the British public are paying the price," Streeting said. "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?"

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