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The Guardian view on the Covid winter plan: the great unravelling | Editorial

The prime minister’s lack of strategic grip means he is being run ragged by factions in his party

Why does every new development in the coronavirus crisis seem to take Boris Johnson by surprise? Over the weekend, the prime minister sent not one, but two panicked letters to backbench Conservative MPs in the hope of dissuading them from voting this week against the government’s post-lockdown restrictions. Having been spooked by the level of discontent in the party ranks, Mr Johnson has conceded to a host of rebel demands, and intimated that rules may be relaxed in many areas from mid-December. The government’s Covid winter plan, unveiled last week, is due to take effect from Wednesday. It is already unravelling into a dangerously messy muddle.

A cost-benefit assessment of the new restrictions regime, demanded by the backbench Covid Research Group (CRG), confirmed what was already known: the damage to battered businesses and the hospitality sector in particular will be considerable. The north and the Midlands, where restive “red wall” MPs now constitute a crucial part of Mr Johnson’s parliamentary majority, will be especially badly hit. MPs in the south, representing areas with low Covid infection rates, are furious that their constituencies have been lumped together with neighbours suffering higher levels of transmission. In order to avoid relying on Labour MPs in Tuesday’s parliamentary vote, Mr Johnson is doing what he always does: ducking and diving to get through.

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