UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE

London — Boris Johnson’s attempt to get his premiership back on track has stumbled before it even began, as the UK prime minister was forced to self-isolate after meeting a legislator who tested positive for Covid-19.

The development looks set to hinder Johnson’s plan to regain control of the national agenda, after a chaotic turf war in Downing Street caused the departure of his most powerful aide, Dominic Cummings, and communications director Lee Cain. Lurid accounts of those rows dominated the media at the weekend.

The premier’s isolation will also revive memories of how he was taken to intensive care to overcome his own severe bout of Covid-19 as the government struggled to cope with the first peak of the pandemic. In a tweet late on Sunday, Johnson said he is well, has no symptoms and will continue working.

The timing is unfortunate for Johnson, who had been due to make a series of major announcements in the coming weeks, including a much-awaited green plan. That was partly an attempt to move on from the departures of Cummings and Cain, which came after tensions blew up over the way the prime minister’s inner circle operates.

The Financial Times reported that Johnson spoke to major Tory donors at the weekend to reassure them he would regain a grip on proceedings, while ministers expect a New Year reshuffle that may cause a cabinet return for former chancellor of the exchequer Sajid Javid.

The latest setback follows a meeting Johnson had with a small group of legislators on Thursday morning, including Lee Anderson of Ashfield, who subsequently tested positive for the virus. Johnson plans to continue speaking to the country, and will discuss with parliamentary authorities how he can take part in proceedings remotely.

Contentious proposals

Johnson was expected to unveil a 10-point environmental plan this week, part of a self-styled green Industrial Revolution to meet a law calling for net-zero emissions by 2050, and to create 2-million green jobs by 2030.

The premier is said to be weighing contentious proposals to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars within a decade, while the Times reported chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak is considering a road-pricing plan to plug the resulting drop in revenue.

On Monday, Johnson had also been due to meet legislators from the so-called Northern Research Group to reassure them of his commitment to his election campaign “levelling up” pledges to tackle regional inequality.

Still, for all the talk of the future, the government’s two major short-term challenges will still dominate the agenda — a fact hammered home by the latest news.

With England’s partial lockdown due to end on December 2, Johnson was set to chair meetings in coming weeks discussing the country’s next steps in tackling the pandemic, his office said.

Meanwhile, Brexit talks will continue, with officials from both sides agreeing that the coming week is crucial if a deal is to be reached before Britain’s December 31 exit date.

Bloomberg

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