Downing Street lockdown-easing plan comes under strong attack

Starmer says Johnson not offering clear advice as country gets contradictory messaging

Boris Johnson has defended his plan for easing the coronavirus lockdown as opposition parties criticised the government's confused messaging and his failure to agree a common approach with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Speaking in the House of Commons, the prime minister said he expected the public to apply "good, solid, British common sense" as the measures changed.

The prime minister was speaking after his government published a 50-page document outlining a three-stage plan to ease restrictions, starting on Wednesday. In the first phase, some restrictions on outdoor exercise will be lifted and those who cannot work from home will be encouraged to go back to work.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson had failed to offer clear guidance to businesses and employees about how to return to work safely, as ministers offered apparently contradictory versions of the plan in early-morning interviews.

"There are lots of questions, but so far precious few answers. The country does need clarity on this and people need reassurance above all else," Sir Keir said.


Quarantine measures

In the second phase starting on June 1st, primary schools will reopen for some classes, non-essential shops will reopen and sporting events will take place behind closed doors. In the third phase, which will begin no earlier than July 4th, other businesses including some in the hospitality industry will reopen.

Within a few weeks, Britain will require people arriving from abroad to quarantine for 14 days, although the measure will not apply to those coming from within the Common Travel Area that includes Ireland. People arriving into Ireland from Great Britain are required to quarantine for 14 days regardless of their nationality, although people can continue to enter the State from Northern Ireland without restriction.

“The Common Travel Area will remain obviously between the UK and Ireland and there’ll be no checks, nothing is intended between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Similarly, you wouldn’t expect anything between GB and Northern Ireland,” Mr Johnson said at a press conference in Downing Street on Monday night.

The British government’s advice on wearing face coverings has changed and they are now recommended – but not required – in certain circumstances.

Devolved administrations

“If you can, wear a face covering in an enclosed space where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. This is most relevant for short periods indoors in crowded areas, for example on public transport or in some shops,” the document says.

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not follow the British government’s plan for easing the lockdown. Edinburgh, Cardiff and Stormont will continue to advise people to stay at home if possible and they have rejected Mr Johnson’s new slogan “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives”.

The document published on Monday allows people in England to drive any distance to take exercise but it warns that different rules in Scotland and Wales must be respected. First minister Nicola Sturgeon said anyone travelling to Scotland for anything other than an essential purpose would be "potentially in breach of the law".

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times