‘Let’s not trip on the last barbed wire’: Boris Johnson makes an impassioned and colourful plea to Britons as he offers rebel MPs the chance to kill off Covid tiers in nine weeks

  • Prime Minister last night attempted to head off a revolt by up to 100 Tory MPs 
  • Boris Johnson is offering a second vote on the tough localised curbs in January 
  • Meanwhile the PM has made a big plea for people not to ‘jump the fence now’ 

Boris Johnson today urges Britain not to ‘blow it’ in the battle against Covid-19 by flouting the rules of his controversial new three-tier system of restrictions.

The Prime Minister last night attempted to head off a revolt by up to 100 Tory MPs this week by offering a second vote on the tough localised curbs in January, and a ‘sunset clause’ so they automatically expire.

Meanwhile, he uses an exclusive article in today’s Mail on Sunday to plea for people not to ‘jump the fence now’ in a bid to reach ‘the sunlit upland pastures ahead’.

In an allusion to the war film The Great Escape, dramatising attempts to flee a German prisoner-of-war camp, Mr Johnson says that if we do ‘we will simply tangle ourselves in the last barbed wire, with disastrous consequences for the NHS’.

With the mass rollout of the first coronavirus vaccines now expected to start within weeks, Mr Johnson deploys a reference to another war, saying: ‘We will inevitably win, because the armies of science are coming to our aid with all the morale-boosting bugle-blasting excitement of Wellington’s Prussian allies coming through the woods on the afternoon of Waterloo’.

Boris Johnson today urges Britain not to ‘blow it’ in the battle against Covid-19 by flouting the rules of his controversial new three-tier system of restrictions

Many of Mr Johnson’s backbenchers are angry that 99 per cent of England’s population are subject to the most stringent restrictions in tiers 2 and 3, which they argue will prove a disaster for the economy, and especially the battered hospitality industry in the crucial run-up to Christmas.

Last night, in an attempt to buy off the rebels ahead of Tuesday’s vote on the restrictions, Mr Johnson promised to give MPs another vote on January 27, and said that a ‘sunset clause’ would mean that the current rules would automatically expire on February 3. It means the tier system could end in just nine weeks.

Mr Johnson also reiterated that the current measures – which economic experts project will cost the UK £900 million a day – would be reviewed on December 16.

A further 15,871 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK today, marking a 20 per cent drop on the number of cases reported last Saturday

Official figures have also revealed a further 479 coronavirus deaths – a 40 per cent rise on the 341 figure seen last Saturday

Rebels leader Steve Baker, of the Covid Recovery Group, said that he and fellow Tory backbenchers would ‘digest the content’ of Mr Johnson’s offer over the weekend, but called on No 10 to publish a full analysis of the ‘health, economic and social impacts of Covid and the measures taken to suppress them’ .

Mr Baker said the rebels were ‘grateful for the constructive approach being taken by the Prime Minister’, but said: ‘The key thing MPs have been asking for before next week’s vote has not yet been published.’

The moves come as:

  • A Deltapoll survey for this newspaper put Labour ahead of the Conservatives, with Sir Keir Starmer’s party on 38 per cent and the Tories on 37 per cent;
  • The Government secured an additional 2 million doses of the almost 95 per cent effective Moderna vaccine, which will be available from next spring, bringing the total number of doses the UK now has access to up to 357 million, from seven companies;
  • This newspaper learned that staff at London hospitals could start booking their injections of the Pfizer jab from Tuesday, with the first doses available from the following week;
  • Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi was appointed as a new ‘vaccine tsar’ to oversee rollout in England, with joint responsibilities between the health department and the business department, where he currently works;
  • Police arrested 155 people at anti-lockdown protests in Central London, in which hundreds of demonstrators marched through Westminster chanting ‘shame on you’ and ‘freedom’;
  • The number of Covid cases dropped by 20 per cent in a week, with 15,871 new infections recorded in the past 24 hours; but another 479 deaths were also recorded.

Boris uses an exclusive article in today’s Mail on Sunday to plea for people not to ‘jump the fence now’ in a bid to reach ‘the sunlit upland pastures ahead’. Pictured: a busy Borough Market in London today

When Boris Johnson compared Britain’s scientists to its Prussian allies at the Battle of Waterloo, he was referring to the decisive role the German troops played in the historic defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Soldiers from the now-dissolved Prussian kingdom did not arrive on the battlefield until late in the afternoon, but entered the fray in such strong numbers that they overwhelmed the French Emperor’s forces.

The Duke of Wellington’s British army of 68,000 men had spent much of the afternoon suppressing waves of attacks from Napoleon’s forces, which numbered about 72,000.

But the tide was turned when 48,000 Prussian soldiers stormed in to attack the French flank, inflicting heavy casualties.

Defeated, Napoleon reportedly rode away from the battlefield in tears and abdicated four days later. Within weeks, British forces marched into Paris. Wellington later said the battle was ‘the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life’.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove had previously moved to quell the rebel Tories. He told the MPs, who include backbench 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, that their failure to back No 10’s policy on Tuesday – the day before tiers are set to be introduced – could lead to every hospital in England being ‘overrun’ with Covid-19 cases.

Backbench anger was fuelled by reports that senior officials plan to ban all indoor socialising until Easter, although in his Mail on Sunday article Mr Johnson says that ‘with the help of these scientific advances we hope to make progress – and to de-escalate – BEFORE Easter’.

Also writing in this newspaper, senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, the powerful chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, criticises the way the tiering regime was devised and implemented. 

In a stern warning, he says the isolation of lockdowns has made ‘some people question whether life is worth living’.

Elsewhere in this newspaper, fellow Tory MP Charles Walker says that the arrest of an elderly anti-lockdown protester outside Parliament last week demonstrated a ‘cavalier approach to the trashing of our constituents’ civil liberties’.

The tier system will be reviewed on December 16, with No 10 hopeful that some areas in the most restrictive tier 3 band will then be able to move to tier 2 as a ‘morale booster’.

In his article, Mr Johnson mounts a plea for patience by the British public, saying: ‘We have worked too hard, lost too many, sacrificed too much, just to see our efforts incinerated in another volcanic eruption of the virus’.

But he insists we will soon ‘drive Covid out of our lives’. 

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