Boris Johnson tells MPs he had ‘no choice’ but to impose lockdown

Boris Johnson today desperately tried to win over furious Tory MPs as he defended his new national coronavirus lockdown and insisted he had ‘no choice’ but to impose tough new draconian curbs.

The Prime Minister told a recalled House of Commons this morning that his hand had been forced after a new variant of the disease was found to be spreading with ‘frightening ease’. 

Mr Johnson said the Government’s vaccination programme meant almost one quarter of over-80s had already received jabs and England had vaccinated more people ‘than in the rest of Europe combined’. 

He said an Office for National Statistics study which suggested one in 50 people are infected showed it is ‘inescapable that the facts are changing’ and the Government’s response had to follow suit.

The lockdown, which includes a strict stay at home message and the closure of all schools, is due to be reviewed in the middle of February but the regulations will last in law until the end of March. 

Mr Johnson said he hoped measures will be able to be lifted in the spring as he warned there will not be a ‘big bang’ out of lockdown but a ‘gradual unwrapping’.  

His address to MPs came amid rumbling discontent on the Tory backbenches over the Government’s handling of the pandemic.    

Boris Johnson today defended his new national coronavirus lockdown to MPs as Parliament was recalled

Boris Johnson today defended his new national coronavirus lockdown to MPs as Parliament was recalled

Boris Johnson today defended his new national coronavirus lockdown to MPs as Parliament was recalled 

Mr Johnson made clear that a successful roll-out of the vaccine programme will be key to when measures can be lifted. 

He said: ‘We have already vaccinated more people in this country than in the rest of Europe combined and we will give the House the maximum possible transparency about our acceleration of this effort, publishing daily updates online from Monday so that jab by jab honourable members can scrutinise the process being made every day. 

‘Yet as we take this giant leap towards finally overcoming the virus and reclaiming our lives we have to contend with the new variant which is between 50 and 70 per cent more contagious. 

‘The tiers the House agreed last month, was working with the old variant but alas, this mutation spreading with frightening ease and speed in spite of the sterling work of the British public, this mutation has led to more cases than we have seen ever before, numbers that alas cannot be explained away by the meteoric rise in testing.’

Mr Johnson said the ONS report published yesterday showing the extent of infections across the country and rising hospitalisations showed it was ‘inescapable that the facts are changing and we must change our response’.

He told MPs: ‘So we had no choice but to return to a national lockdown in England with similar measures being adopted by the devolved administrations so that we can control this new variant until we can take the most likely victims out of its path with vaccines.’ 

Mr Johnson’s decision to close schools as part of his latest national shutdown triggered a Cabinet split. 

The Prime Minister initially sided with hawks led by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson who wanted classes to remain open.

But he switched to agree with doves including Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Michel Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, after being presented with new data showing the scale of the problem facing the nation, the Financial Times reported. 

A number of Tory backbenchers are increasingly angry at the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. 

Senior Tory MPs had joined the Opposition in calling for the introduction of another national lockdown. 

But the idea of hardening the restrictions sparked fury from other Conservatives, who insist the country’s experience of the pandemic shows that lockdowns do not work and are crippling the economy.  

It came after the Government’s vaccines tsar today admitted that the NHS will need to be giving around three million vaccine doses a week by February to meet the PM’s target.    

Nadhim Zahawi said the goal of covering more than 13million of the most vulnerable within seven weeks was ‘very stretching’ – but can be delivered. 

Mr Johnson wants England’s schools to reopen after the February half-term starting that week, but ministers admit it depends on progress in the battle to curb Covid-19 cases.

There is a growing clamour today for the vaccination process to be ramped up – with concerns that local chemists and other facilities are not being used enough. 

So far around 1.3 million people in the UK have been vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech jabs and Mr Zahawi said there will be a ‘massive acceleration’ in the coming days.

Challenged that the weekly figure would need to be more like three million than two million to hit the PM’s target, Mr Zahawi nodded and said: ‘You’re going to see that increase – the NHS have got a very clear plan.

‘We’ve got a fantastic team working, seven days a week, all hours to deliver this.

‘No doubt, it is a stretching target. But I think it’s one that we should absolutely look to deliver.’ 

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