Tory MPs urge Prime Minister not to ‘backslide’ as he hesitates over lockdown exit date
Senior Tory MPs have urged Boris Johnson not to “backslide” on commitments to provide an exit strategy from lockdown measures on 22 February, after the Prime Minister hesitated on a firm date for reopening schools.
The PM has repeatedly stated he will provide a “roadmap” on 22 February outlining the government’s plans for exiting England’s third national lockdown.
Johnson had said the date would provide schools the necessary two weeks’ notice for preparing classrooms for pupils’ return on 8 March.
However, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said today that the roadmap will now be provided in the “week beginning 22 February”, rather than on the Monday itself.
“We will set out the roadmap that week but you’ve got what we’ve said previously about trying to give schools as much notice as possible and we’ve said we’ll give at least two weeks,” he added.
The hesitance means the reopening of schools could be pushed back as late as mid-March, with the easing of lockdown restrictions potentially delayed until much later.
Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, urged the Prime Minister not to row back on his initial timeline.
“The Prime Minister, vaccines minister and health secretary have all confirmed that the plan for lifting restrictions would come on 22 February,” he said.
“It’s crucial we don’t backslide on this, not least because the government has said it wants to give schools two weeks notice before they open, and — as the PM said — it is the ‘settled will’ of most MPs that pupils should be back in school on 8 March.”
It comes after Johnson hinted at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions that schools may reopen their doors later than the original 8 March deadline.
He insisted the government was “going to do everything we can” to get children back in classrooms on that date “if we possibly can”.
However, he added that it was ministers’ priority to try and keep coronavirus under control, warning that “we cannot take our foot off its throat”.
The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have both said they hope to begin the phased reopening of schools after half-term from 22 February.