Tory MP slams ‘pitiful’ leadership as backbenchers turn on Boris Johnson over pandemic response

Boris Johnson giving a statement in Downing Street. Photograph: 10 Downing Street/PA Wire.

Boris Johnson giving a statement in Downing Street. Photograph: 10 Downing Street/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Tory MPs are starting to turn on the prime minister over the latest phase of the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, following a dip in the polls for their leader.

The BBC's Newsnight reports that there is discontent on the backbenches of the prime minister's party for failing to reopen English schools, which a number put down to failure to reduce the two-metre social distancing rule.

MPs are also privately fuming about airport quarantine rules and the fact that Johnson's 'world-beating' test and trace system is anything but.

'I am picking up real unease from Conservative MPs about Boris Johnson's handling of this phase of the pandemic,' Newsnight's political editor Nicholas Watt explained.

'Grave disappointment on that announcement on schools, lots of Tory MPs blaming that on the failure to overrule government scientists on the two-metre rule...

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'Those Conservative MPs believe cutting the two-metre rule down to one meter is absolutely at the heart of the wider opening of the economy.

'They think Boris Johnson is sympathetic to that, but all they hear from ministers is that it's 'under review'.'

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He said that one senior Tory MP had said: 'Our leadership is pitiful. Boris Johnson needs to be honest. Opening up the economy brings risks. If we don't do this we are heading for economic catastrophe.'

He added that a 'close friend' of the prime minister said he was 'deeply concerned about the political advice he is receiving, leading to a series of mistakes - for example - on the shenanigans over voting in parliament last week'.

But Downing Street insists that the prime minister is 'working incredibly hard to open up the economy' and that it involves 'a lot of difficult trade-offs'.

Over the weekend Johnson faced accusations he was spending too long taking 'power naps' lasting up to three hours, and that he was turning to the tennis courts to take his mind off politics.

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