‘Recipe for chaos’: How the UK reacted to Boris Johnson’s lockdown speech

Opposition parties, unions and business groups say PM’s address lacked clarity – while even Tory MPs are confused over new rules

Adam Forrest
Monday 11 May 2020 11:20 BST
The key soundbites from Boris Johnson's lockdown statement

Boris Johnson’s big Sunday night speech was supposed to offer the nation some clarity on the easing of current restrictions, the so-called “road map” out of lockdown.

Yet the reaction was largely one of puzzlement, with critics claiming the prime minister had failed to offer precise details on the what the country can expect to happen.

His plan was met with derision by opposition parties, union leaders, business groups, newspaper pundits and people responding on social media, many of whom accused Mr Johnson of sending out mixed messages.

Political reaction

Sir Keir Starmer claimed the prime minister’s statement raised “as many questions as it answers”. The Labour leader added: “What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.”

The Liberal Democrats’ acting leader Sir Ed Davey responded: “The prime minister has not provided the country with any evidence or justification for this change. Instead, he risks creating more confusion than clarity by badly communicating his government’s plans.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford – following accusations from Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon about “imprecise” messaging from the UK government – said: “There’s a very real concern that people will get the message from what the prime minister said tonight that it’s back to business as usual.”

Union leaders and business groups also attacked the speech after Mr Johnson said it was time to “go to work if you can’t work from home”. The prime minister offered construction and manufacturing as examples of sectors where people “should be actively encouraged to go to work”.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it was a “recipe for chaos”, arguing employers still did not have clear guidance on how to enforce social distancing. The British Chamber of Commerce added: “It is imperative that companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace.”

Newspaper reaction

The Daily Mirror’s front page boldly stated ‘It’s chaos’, while the paper’s associate editor Kevin Maguire claimed the PM’s speech was “proof there is no crisis that Tory charlatan Boris Johnson can't make worse”.

The Guardian said the address had left Britain “confused and divided”, while Metro picked up on the general puzzlement with the headline: “It’s all Greek to us Boris”.

Even The Daily Telegraph, generally supportive of Mr Johnson, ran an opinion piece on its front page suggesting the PM’s road map had “only a few vague directions”.

The Daily Mail’s commentator Stephen Glover, sympathetic to the balance Mr Johnson at least attempted to strike, suggested. “Let’s face it: he’s walking a tightrope, and if he leans too far in one or other direction, he is liable to fall off.”

Social media reaction

Comedian Matt Lucas captured the frustration felt by many by releasing a parody video of a befuddled prime minister. “So we are saying don’t go to work, go to work. Don’t take public transport, go to work, don’t go to work,” spluttered Mr Lucas, impersonating the Tory leader.

England cricket star Ben Stokes was the most prominent defender of the prime minister’s speech on Twitter. “I felt like I was in the room and he was talking to me...what a brilliant speech,” he wrote.

Health secretary Matt Hancock described it as a “strong and clear statement”, while Tory MP Tom Tugendhat said he found it enlightening, despite the ongoing uncertainty.

“That was a very clear message from @BorisJohnson and a welcome explanation of the situation. By explaining the uncertainty and complexity @10DowningStreet is allowing all of us to think through the implications. Thank you. That’s leadership, ” Mr Tugendhat wrote.

Matt Lucas mocks Boris Johnson's 'confusing' lockdown address

There was anger at the prime minister's suggestion that some people should “go to work if you can’t work from home,” but at the same time avoid public transport if possible.

Left-wing commentator Owen Jones said the plan “means sending working class people back to work while middle class professionals can keep working from home”.

Many found it odd that Mr Johnson said nothing on whether people would be allowed to meet up with friends or family.

“Horribly predictable that a Tory government would urge people to see their boss first rather than their family and loved ones,” Twitter user Katy Jane commented.

It seems even cabinet ministers found it confusing. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab contradicted Downing Street on Monday by saying people would now be allowed to meet both their parents in a park, provided they stayed 2m apart.

But a government source quickly corrected the statement, telling The Independent: “They can see both parents, but not at the same time – they would have to see them individually.”

Elsewhere, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan he could visit his two sons, as long as he abided by social distancing. The ITV presenter said Mr Bridgen’s response was “completely against the new rules” and showed he hadn’t “got a clue” what the rules were.

This Morning host Phillip Schofield said he found the confusion over rules around meeting relatives “astonishing”. He said: “If this was in a farce on the telly I’d go, ‘That’s a bit far-fetched, no government would a**e it up that much’.”

The ITV presenter pleaded for someone in government to explain “what it is you actually want us to do”.

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