These are crucial weeks for Boris Johnson. Also decisive for the country. We are embroiled in a perfect storm of a possible no-deal Brexit and a seemingly resurgent pandemic.
With Brexit, we may be nearing an agreement that avoids the dangers of no deal. But we are not there yet and in the next few days the Prime Minister will have to decide whether to accept an inevitable compromise.
Covid-19 is making a comeback in many parts of the country, particularly in London and the south east, despite the recent lockdown. Things are not looking so good in the independent fiefs of Wales and Scotland either.
These are crucial weeks for Boris Johnson. Also decisive for the country. We are embroiled in a perfect storm of a possible no-deal Brexit and a seemingly resurgent pandemic
Any of these challenges could derail the strongest and most competent leader. Together, they present a test that is probably more difficult than any other test that a British Prime Minister faces in peacetime.
Is Boris ready? I admit that my mind is changing. I admire the way he refused to be pushed around by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. He looked like a prime minister to be proud of.
The unanswered question is whether he will recognize the moment when a compromise becomes desirable. Does he really believe that Britain would “thrive mightily” under No Deal? He can't possibly know. It's a meaningless claim.
And Covid? By the time of his press conference yesterday afternoon, I was ready to continue. There was reason to believe that he had finally turned against the Scientists of Doom when attacked from all sides.
Pictured: President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen
The increasingly opportunist Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer had thrown a blow at him during Prime Minister's Question Time and accused Mr Johnson of ignoring medical advice. Sir Keir was far too slippery to say if he would allow the rules to be relaxed for five days.
Scientists have lined up for the past few days to criticize Boris. According to the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal in a rare joint editorial, "The government is about to make another major mistake that will cost many lives." Pretty extreme stuff from two normally reluctant releases.
Public opinion cannot be on his side either. A YouGov poll of 3,856 adults – a sizeable sample – found that 57 percent of those polled think that the rules shouldn't be suspended over Christmas.
So the Prime Minister was reached by people who told him to "cancel Christmas". Various reports in yesterday's newspapers indicated that he was determined not to be bullied. He would give us the interlude he had promised.
Trucks line up on the A20 to enter the port of Dover and board ferries to Europe
In the event that he held onto his guns at the press conference – but only barely. With Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (also known as Professor Gloom) at his side, he challenged us to enjoy a “Merry Little Christmas” with as few trips or overnight stays as possible. We were asked to show "extreme caution".
None of that sounded very funny. While it was hoped he could celebrate people's freedom to choose what to do for five short days, he sounded nervous and dejected. If we want a nice Christmas, we should wait until next year.
On the other hand, he only offered us guidance. These were recommendations. Unlike Mark Drakeford, the unfortunate First Minister of Wales, Mr Johnson did not propose any new laws to conduct us over Christmas. Of course, he might not have had such legislation behind the increasingly rebellious Tory MPs in the back benches.
One could add that it was too late in the day for the government to reverse the relaxation of the rules over the Christmas season through legislative changes, as millions of people have already made trips and other Christmas plans.
Joyce Dowd, 94, receives the first of two injections of a dose of the Pfizer / BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine
In defense of the Prime Minister, he said that it was "frankly inhuman" to "ban Christmas". Totalitarian could have been a better word. I hope the Christmas ban was never on the government's agenda.
My impression was of a man who made the most of a bad job. He would have preferred not to advocate the idea of a brief respite in the middle of lockdown a few weeks ago when it was hoped that infection rates would be lower than it turned out.
In other words, as is so often the case in this crisis, it seems to be event-driven. He's doing the right thing – he's giving us our brief experience of freedom despite trying to make our flesh creep in the process. But he did not break free from Professor Whitty and the scientists. You are still responsible.
How much longer can it take? Mr Drakeford announced a lockdown in Wales immediately after Christmas yesterday. Professor Whitty said that despite all dire warnings and advice from the government, the partial repeal of the rules "would lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths". It is certainly likely that the government will decide on another lockdown in England in January.
Not that the previous lockdown, which ended in early December, appears to have had much of an impact on curbing soaring infection rates in London and the South East.
Another lockdown would do more damage to an already weakened economy. More unemployment, more abandoned operations, more mental health problems, more bankrupt businesses. Public finances, already under unprecedented pressure outside of the war, would take another, potentially catastrophic blow.
Yet we can be virtually certain that this will be proposed, as this country is run by the Department of Health and academics (with cynical support from the Labor Party) rather than the government on the advice of practical economists.
Don't we have a vaccine that could save us? So they say. However, there is evidence that it may not be available as quickly as it should be. According to the National Audit Office, less than half of the population will be vaccinated by the end of next year.
The test for Boris is whether he is content to follow a script written by professors like Gloom and Doom – or whether he is willing to take responsibility for the rattling train and instill the trust and faith that this country needs so badly.
In the past few weeks, Mr Johnson often seemed to be a more substantial personality in dealing with Ursula von der Leyen and the EU. He was finally his own man. This may be because Dominic Cummings stopped telling him what to do.
Incidentally, it is utterly outrageous that Cummings should have received a raise of about £ 45,000, about 50 percent of his salary, last year. This is an absurd reward for a man who, after breaking the lockdown – with no later regrets – did incalculable damage to the Prime Minister.
Does Boris recognize that? I dont know. He sometimes seems so friendly and impetuous, while he is not always fully occupied with the business of government.
This is his moment – and the country's future. If Boris can lead us out of this nightmarish pandemic instead of being led by the scientists, and if he can make an honorable deal with the EU, it will be a great accomplishment. We'll soon find out if he's up to the task.
(tagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) Debate (t) Boris Johnson (t) London (t) Brexit (t) Coronavirus Lockdowns