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Will Sajid Javid Be A Lockdown Hawk Or Dove As Boris Johnson Makes Decision On Ending Covid Restrictions?

Sajid Javid has taken over from Matt Hancock as health secretary as the government decides when to remove the final coronavirus restrictions (Alamy)

4 min read

Sajid Javid’s elevation back to the Cabinet means there will be a new voice in the key meetings about Covid restrictions for the first time since the pandemic began.

Javid was appointed as health secretary on Saturday after the publication of pictures of his predecessor Matt Hancock engaged in a tryst with an aide forced his resignation.

There are suggestions the new health secretary will want to move more quickly in removing the remaining measures than Hancock, but the question remains whether he will be a ‘hawk’ or a ‘dove’ as Boris Johnson decides when to move to step 4 of his roadmap.

Javid is said to be strongly against another extension beyond the 19 July “terminus date” the Prime Minister has outlined, backed up by his comments today that there is “no going back”.

One prominent lockdown sceptic Tory MP told PoliticsHome they were “very pleased” that Javid had replaced Hancock, adding it was seen as a very good sign there will be no further extension of restrictions.

But although this viewed is shared among Conservatives Javid has always voted with the government on lockdowns and other Covid measures. He has not rebelled on anything since quitting as Chancellor and returning to the backbenches last February, perhaps trying to stay in the administration’s good graces with half an eye on a swift Cabinet return.

Javid’s reputation as a lockdown "hawk" stems from his comments in May 2020 when the government was debating how to open up from the first lockdown he said ministers should “run the economy hot”.

He said “reopening” the economy and lifting restrictions as soon as possible was vital to ensuring rapid growth.

Warning that he believed the country needs “to think carefully about the impact on the rest of society and the economy” of continuing lockdown, he added: “When it comes to opening up you want to go as far and as quick as you can.”

That attitude was echoed again this year when he responded to the Spending Review from his successor at the Treasury Rishi Sunak.

"The faster our economy can bounce back, the easier it will be to manage our debt in the future," he said.Javid is now due to join the powerful ‘quad’ of ministers alongside, Johnson, Sunak and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove as they decide today whether to move forward step 4 to 5 July, which despite still-rising Covid cases, many Tory MPs are calling for in light of the success of the vaccination programme.

In his first comments as health secretary yesterday, Javid hinted he may push for the earlier date. "We are still in a pandemic and I want to see that come to an end as soon as possible and that will be my most immediate priority, to see that we can return to normal as soon and as quickly as possible,” he said. 

Speaking earlier today he again struck a less cautious tone on lockdown restrictions than his predecessor. "I want to see the restrictions lifted and life going back to normal as quickly as possible," Javid told reporters. 

"Right here and now that is my absolute priority. I want to see those restrictions lifted as soon as we can, as quickly as possible.”He continued: "In terms of the road map to that, you'll have to wait for my statement to Parliament later today.

"It's going to be irreversible, there's no going back. That's why we want to be careful during that process.”

But Javid is also being urged to be “a voice of caution in the Cabinet in terms of the potential pressures in the health service”, by NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor.

Professor Peter Openshaw, who advises the government as a member of Nervtag, urged Javid not to bring forward the easing of restrictions.

He said of the new minister: "He may have different attitudes, but I do hope that he will follow his predecessor and take a very cautious approach, because we must get the vaccination rates up before we ease the restrictions.”

Speaking in Batley today Johnson suggested "we're working towards" 19 July as the date for ending restrictions.

"You will be hearing a statement from Sajid Javid in the House later on this afternoon about where we are in the pandemic, the steps that we are going to be taking," he told reporters during a visit ahead of Thursday’s by-election.

"I think we are looking set for July 19."

The PM also revealed he “had a good conversation yesterday, a long meeting” with Javid over the current coronavirus data, which shows the vaccination programme has been working.

But he added: "What I think we should do now is continue to take a cautious but irreversible approach and use the next three-and-a-half weeks or so to make sure that we get another five million vaccinations into people's arms, build up even higher that wall of protection.

"And then go forward on July 19 as a terminus date when I think that we will be able, really, to return to pretty much life before Covid.”

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