At home, fiats about the pandemic dismay Tories. Abroad, threats to breach deals destroy trust. But what leader can hope to govern without goodwill?
Late on Wednesday afternoon Boris Johnson addressed the nation from Downing Street, flanked by Union Jacks. It was a familiar scene, but he had a new, serious message. Coronavirus cases were rising fast across the UK, doubling every seven days. Public health officials from all corners of the country had reported horrifying rises, particularly among the young. Schools had re-opened in England ten days earlier. The government was urging people back to work. And university campuses were beginning to fill up for the new academic year. Ministers and Public Health England knew that within days, Covid-19 cases could be rising much faster still and that hospital admissions could soon be on a rapid upward curve, as they already were in France and Spain.
The Prime Minister had been stung by accusations that he had acted too late to prepare the country and curb the spread of the virus back in March, and he would not allow such criticism to be made again. New limits would be introduced on the size of gatherings, and the full force of the law would be used to enforce them. “In England from Monday we are introducing the rule of six,” he said. “You must not meet socially in groups of more than six and if you do you will be breaking the law.” Those who disobeyed the orders, he added, could be fined or even arrested.