Who are the doves and hawks of UK’s Covid-19 lockdown policy? | Politics


Boris Johnson, prime minister
Johnson is cautious about the idea the UK should be rushing to lift lockdown measures, as he fears a second wave of the pandemic could cripple the country. From the Chequers estate, where he is recovering from coronavirus, Johnson held discussions with the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, and his director of communications, Lee Cain, last Friday. During the meeting he let it be known he was deeply concerned about the cost of a second peak to both the economy and people’s health. Cummings is also understood to be on the side of caution while so little is known about the consequences of lifting the lockdown.

Matt Hancock, health secretary
Hancock has been an active proponent of continued lockdown to try to relieve pressure on the NHS and get the transmission rate as low as possible before easing restrictions. He has been vocal about the government not giving away its lockdown exit strategy as it might lead to people starting to disobey the rules. However, in virtual meetings involving some cabinet ministers he has been coming up against their concerns about the health and social impact of a sharp economic downturn and other consequences of lockdown such as escalating domestic abuse levels.


In the middle

Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, deputising as prime minister
Raab is known to be instinctively in favour of a swift end to the lockdown but is also keeping his position close to that of the prime minister. He was leading the government at the time the decision was taken to extend lockdown measures by three weeks to 7 May, and was clear about the risks to the economy and the health of the nation if it was lifted too quickly. When pressed for a timeline, Raab pointed to Johnson’s remark of 19 March, that it would take 12 weeks to “turn the tide” of the virus, saying that was still “broadly the outline”.

Alok Sharma, business secretary
Originally considered to be part of the cabinet’s lockdown hawks, keen to get business back on its feet, Sharma has pivoted towards a more cautious stance, telling more than 1,000 business leaders in a webinar last Friday that he shared the PM’s concerns about a second wave. In his call, hosted by the Confederation of British Industry, he said lifting the lockdown too early could bring further setbacks to business because of a second peak of the illness and said “that’s the worst possible thing you could do”.

Gavin Williamson, education secretary
Williamson is another cabinet member who appears to have rowed back from an initial keenness to end lockdown. He had been described as a lockdown hawk because of his reported concern about the long-term effect that absence from school had on children and was keen to see a phased return to the classroom. However, a government source said the secretary of state totally dismissed suggestions he was part of the hawks group and in a press conference on Sunday he did not give a date when schools would reopen.


Rishi Sunak, chancellor

Sunak has privately been making the case for as quick an end to the lockdown as possible to limit damage to the economy, viewing it as part of his job to speak up about the financial risks of a lengthy shutdown. Internal Treasury projections about the scale of business bankruptcies, unemployment and the depth of the recession to come have caused worries among cabinet ministers. He hinted at this last week in a No 10 press conference, saying he was “deeply troubled” by the effect on the economy. However, sources close to him have also been keen to stress that his first priority is saving lives and protecting the NHS in line with the government’s overarching message.

Michael Gove, Cabinet Office minister

Gove has been growing increasingly concerned about the economic impact of the lockdown and knock-on consequences for the health of the nation, according to Whitehall sources. He is one of the most outspoken of the four decision-makers in the so-called Quad – along with Raab, Sunak and Hancock – about finding ways to relax restrictions, and is leading a strategic unit in the Cabinet Office to look at ways to get the country moving again. Last week, he was reported by the Sunday Times to have told a meeting of the Quad that he wanted to “run things quite hot” – meaning he would be prepared to lift restrictions as soon as the transmission rate had lowered. One person close to him said they did not recognise the idea of different camps within cabinet and stressed he was supportive of the scientific advice.

Liz Truss, international trade secretary
Truss believes that restoring global trade as quickly as possible could be a key way to support the country economically and she would be keen to see lockdown restrictions lifted incrementally sooner rather than later. She is continuing to keep up contact with Singapore, Australia and other G20 countries to hammer home that trade with the UK is vitally important for financial recovery. She is not alone in her views within cabinet, with suggestions that anyone with an “economic department” is naturally aligned with her position.

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