Michael Gove said 19 July is the absolute “terminus date” for ending England’s remaining coronavirus restrictions, and only an “unprecedented and remarkable” change would push it back further.
The Cabinet Office minister’s comments came the morning after Boris Johnson announced a delay of four weeks to so-called “Freedom Day”, the fourth and final step of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Johnson’s new deadline of 19 July will be the “terminus date” and will not be extended, Gove told Sky News. “What we said was that we wouldn’t lift the restrictions before the 21 June,” he added. “The whole point of the roadmap was to build in an element of flexibility and caution.”
Gove echoed Boris Johnson’s reasoning from the night before, saying that the extension of four weeks beyond the original 21 June date would allow more time to vaccinate the UK’s adult population and ensure more people had their second dose.
Pressed on what it would take for the government to delay “Freedom Day” once again, Gove said: “It would require an unprecedented and remarkable alteration in the progress of the disease.”
As the hospitality sector faces a £2.5bn rent debt crisis, Gove was pressed on whether there will be any extension to Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme so that the government does more to compensate for the roadmap delay, but said: “The financial support that the chancellor has already put in place was intended to take account of any slippage in the date.”
The cabinet office minister made no hints that the chancellor would budge on existing financial support scheme and added: “It’s still the case that furlough support will be in place until the end of September, but we’re asking employers to pay a little bit of that furlough – and that’s entirely in line with what other countries who have had perhaps even greater difficulties have been doing too.”
The hospitality industry yesterday warned that a one month delay to restrictions lifting could mean 200,000 jobs are lost.
Prior to Boris Johnson’s announcement of the 19 July delay, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry body UK Hospitality, said: “Even now, with partial reopening, sector sales remain down 42 per cent and 300,000 jobs remain protected by furlough. A one-month delay to restrictions lifting would cost the sector around £3bn in sales.”