Back to normal by… next October? Boris Johnson downgrades ambition

Back to normal by… next October? Boris Johnson promises end to social distancing and return to ‘face to face’ meetings by next Autumn despite claiming life would resume by Christmas

  • Boris Johnson told virtual Tory conference he wanted to be ‘face to face’ in 2021
  • The timetable seems less ambitious than previous hopes of a ‘normal’ Christmas
  • Mr Johnson more recently suggested that life would resume by next Spring 

Boris Johnson appeared to back away further from his ambition of getting the country towards normality by Christmas today – holding out hope that the crisis will have passed in a year’s time.

Addressing the ‘virtual’ Tory conference, the PM committed himself to ensuring that their next gathering was ‘face to face, cheek by jowl’.

The promise appears significantly less bold than in mid-July, when he said he wanted a ‘significant return to normality’ by Christmas.

It even allows more wriggle room than his recent suggestion social distancing and other restrictions could be in place for another six months.

In his online speech to the party faithful, Mr Johnson said: ‘I was going to say how great it is to be here in Birmingham but the fact is that we are not in Birmingham. This is not a conference hall, and alas I can’t see any of you in front of me…

Addressing the ‘virtual’ Tory conference, the PM committed himself to ensuring that their next gathering was ‘face to face, cheek by jowl’

Boris Johnson’s hopes of easing social distancing and getting back to normal have been hit by a surge in infections since the beginning of September

‘We will succeed by collective effort, by following the guidance and with the help of weekly and almost daily improvements in the medicine and the science.

‘We will ensure that next time we meet it will be face to face and cheek by jowl, and we are working for the day when life will be back to normal, flying in a plane will be back to normal, and hairdressers will no longer look as though they are handling radioactive isotopes.

‘And when we can go and see our loved ones in care homes, and when we no longer have to greet each other by touching elbows as in some giant national version of the Birdie dance.’

Mr Johnson pleaded for Tories to keep faith in his instincts and handling of the coronavirus crisis, setting out a true blue vision for a ‘new Jerusalem’ in Britain after the disease is defeated.

He admitted 2020 ‘has not been the year we imagined’ but insisted the devastating effects of the pandemic would not prevent the government pushing its ‘levelling up’ agenda after Brexit. 

Nodding to rising Conservative anger about infringement of civil liberties and lockdown strangling the economy, he said he ‘deeply regretted’ the restrictions the government was imposing – but he warned there was ‘simply no reasonable alternative’. 

Scrambling to reassure those questioning his Tory values, he promised to roll back the state as soon as possible, slamming the idea that the taxpayer could be ‘Uncle Sugar’ and keep funding every part of the economy, extolling the virtue of ‘competitive’ tax rates, and praising entrepreneurs. 

The typical scene at Tory conference, which Mr Johnson said he wanted to see back next year

Mr Johnson also channeled the spirit of Thatcher’s 1980s revolution by pledging to save the dream of home ownership for a new generation, with the government underwriting 95 per cent mortgages for around two million first-time buyers.

And he lashed out at those calling for the country to paper over its colonial past, saying he was ‘not embarrassed’ to sing Rule Britannia.

He said returning to the same way of doing things would not be enough, and the government was determined to ‘build back better’.  It was ‘in crises like this’ that real change could be made, and he would seize the moment to do so.

The premier delivered an angry response to claims that he has ‘lost his mojo’ and not fully recovered from his own brush with coronavirus, offering to ‘arm wrestle or leg wrestle’ to prove them wrong.  

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