Boris Johnson has warned there will be “disastrous consequences” for the NHS if the new tiered system proposed by government does not win the support of MPs and the country.
The prime minister, who is facing a rebellion from his own MPs over the measures, urged the nation to “work together” with tiering, testing and vaccines.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he stressed that it was too early to relax restrictions, but said he believed Easter would mark a “real chance to return to something like life as normal”.
Johnson said: “We can’t blow it now. We can’t just throw it all away – not when freedom is in sight. We have worked too hard, lost too many, sacrificed too much, just to see our efforts incinerated in another volcanic eruption of the virus…
“We are so nearly out of our captivity. We can see the sunlit upland pastures ahead. But if we try to jump the fence now, we will simply tangle ourselves in the last barbed wire, with disastrous consequences for the NHS.
“So let’s do the job properly. Let’s work together, and with tiering, testing and vaccines let’s make 2021 the year we kick Covid out, take back control of our lives and reclaim all the things we love.”
The prime minister likened the development of effective vaccines to the “morale-boosting bugle-blasting excitement of Wellington’s Prussian allies coming through the woods on the afternoon of Waterloo”.
And he said: “If and when we can begin delivering those shots in the national arm – beginning with the most vulnerable groups – we will know we have won.”
Johnson is attempting to head off a rebellion by offering parliament another chance to vote on the restrictions early next year, saying the legislation will have a “sunset of February 3”.
He also said that at the first review of the measures on December 16 he would move areas down a tier where there is “robust evidence” that coronavirus is in sustained decline.
Johnson wrote to Tory MPs on Saturday night ahead of a crunch Commons vote on the restrictions on Tuesday, when scores of them could rebel.
They are angry at that so much of the country will be under stringent restrictions when the national lockdown ends.
Johnson said the government will review local areas’ tiers every fortnight and bring the regulations before parliament after the fourth review on January 27 which will determine whether the tier system stays in place until the end of March.
He also said the first such review, on December 16, would consider the views of local directors of public health, with a final decision on whether any areas should change tiers made at a Cabinet committee. The changes would come into effect on December 19.
In a further olive branch to MPs, the prime minister committed to publish more data and outline what circumstances need to change for an area to move down a tier, as well analysis of the health, economic and social impacts of the measures taken to suppress coronavirus.
Several senior Tories have expressed opposition to the measures, including the 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady who said he wanted to see people “treated as adults” and trusted with their own health decisions.