What will Boris Johnson be remembered for?
Brexit? Probably. Getting Brexit “done”. Perhaps. But more likely – and the former PM won’t be very happy with this – he will be forever associated with lockdown.
At Johnson’s decree, tens of millions of people were placed under house arrest on and off for the best part of two years. The Johnsonian roaring ‘20s this was not.
But in the weeks and months that followed the first lockdown in March 2020, it became clear that there was a battle within government over whether locking down was a good idea.
Fast forward to today, and the trove of WhatsApp messages seen by The Telegraph this week shows just what a reluctant advocate of lockdown Johnson really was.
Take the following exchange:
Here Johnson is extolling a view shared by swathes of the lockdown-sceptic population: the trade-off isn’t worth it. The impression from the messages is that Hancock is consistently more willing to “play it safe” by locking down than his boss.
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All restrictions were due to end on 4 July 2020, but Johnson wanted to go further faster, and ease a wide range of restrictions on 15 June. On the day this message was sent 723 new cases had been recorded, the lowest tally since the start of the pandemic.
“Slackie” and “Lee” are James Slack and Lee Cain, two political advisers with no scientific background. Hancock eventually persuades Johnson to stick to Cain and Slack’s advice and hold off. In this case, Johnson is the only one who got anywhere near an argument based on “the science” – and he was talked out of it on the basis of optics.
The leaks reveal that Johnson’s instincts are persistently against lockdown. On this narrow measure at least, he appears to have been vindicated.
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