The British people have once again put their faith in Boris Johnson and his Conservative team across the country.
It is hardly surprising in the light of the remarkable NHS vaccination rollout. With this new mandate, it’s time for a fresh start of unity and hope.
More than 34.5 million adults across the UK – over two thirds of the adult population – have now received the jab, with the NHS administering over 3.5 million vaccines per week. This Herculean effort is making a huge difference in reducing the amount of harm Covid is capable of causing.
Deaths have fallen by 99 per cent in England and Wales since the peak of the second wave, and deaths and hospitalisations are at some of the lowest levels we have seen throughout the entire pandemic.
At last, after the devastating toll families and friends have paid all over the country in the face of Covid and after enduring the damaging cycle of lockdowns and restrictions, we have reason to be optimistic.
Now is the moment for the Conservative Party and for the country to unite, to celebrate having had one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world and to look ahead, with relentless precision, focus and vigour, to a free life after lockdown beyond 21 June.
We know Boris is yearning to unleash Britain. Removing people’s freedoms and restricting businesses from creating, employing and innovating is not in our Prime Minister’s spirit. On 22 February, when Boris announced the roadmap out of lockdown, he said that we were on a “one way road to freedom”, and his Health Secretary confirmed to me that 21 June was “freedom from these regulations”. Those freedom-loving instincts must be renewed by these results.
As usual, voters across the country are streets ahead of the conventional wisdom of Westminster and Whitehall: the British public has willed our PM on to focus on data not doom, and to start addressing the next set of urgent challenges facing our country.
In the 2019 General Election, we promised to deliver Brexit and then to use the opportunities and freedoms that that would give us to level up and to bring opportunity to all four corners of the United Kingdom.
Yet since then, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, our borrowing levels are at the highest levels in peacetime in more than three centuries. We now have a higher national debt than our national product for the first time since 1963. Social divisions and opportunity gaps have widened significantly due to the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.
BUSINESS CAN’T OPERATE
As all Conservatives know, we won’t be able to level up, contain our debts, grow our way to recovery or support our public services if we continue to ask people and businesses to operate under restrictions.
In early April 2020, Her Majesty invited us to look forward to “better days” when “we will meet again”. So it’s great news the Government is set to declare that we can and should once again hug our nearest and dearest from next week. Now we must look ahead to 21 June as the date by which freedom truly means freedom.
THE DOOMSAYERS WERE WRONG
The data is so good, and the doomsayers so wrong, that it cannot possibly be rational or morally right for us to have to socially distance from each other in any context or setting in the UK beyond 21 June. Being social is key to being well so by 21 June at the latest, Britain must meet again, must be reunited in every sense, and we must start healing the broken bonds of the last year with social contact and normal human interaction.
The Queen, in her enduring wisdom, also said that we must “join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal”. There can be no doubt that once we have vaccinated those vulnerable to Covid in the UK, the right thing is for Britain proudly to lead the world in delivering surplus vaccines to developing countries.
Brexit gives us the freedom to determine our own future, but it also gives us a chance to lead in the world as we always have done, to ensure that admirable British values are exported across the globe.
Just as we should not lock ourselves down needlessly at home once we have vaccinated the vulnerable, nor should we be hoarding vaccines when they can be doing so much more good overseas in fighting a virus that is most harmful to older people and those with underlying health conditions. There can be no greater service to the world’s citizens in 2021 than protecting those vulnerable to Covid, wherever they may be.
As we start this new chapter in our history – outside the EU and having vaccinated the vulnerable against Covid – it’s time to unleash this country’s true potential by making the most of the benefits of the brilliant NHS vaccination rollout, to lift these appalling restrictions safely and proportionately in line with the harm Covid is capable of causing, and by finally – as the Prime Minister said in February – reclaiming our lives once and for all.