Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been caught between two prerogatives throughout the pandemic — his sober commitment to "follow the science" and his instinctive opposition to heavy-handed restrictions.
Why it matters: He now faces pressure from the opposition Labour Party to agree to a two-week "circuit breaker" lockdown, which the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies believes would reduce deaths before the end of the year by 29%–49%. But he's also under pressure from many in his Conservative Party to rule out any such measures.
Driving the news: Johnson's government is imposing new tiered restrictions in England, with Liverpool first to enter a local lockdown and London now facing "tier two" restrictions, which include a ban on indoor gatherings involving multiple households.
- The opposition is fierce. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has vowed to "stand firm" against plans to shift his city to "tier three" — which would see pubs closed and travel restricted — unless the government also provides economic support.
- Amid a response seen by many as muddled, Johnson's approval rating has fallen from April's high of 66% down to 35%.
Other parts of the U.K. are heading in their own directions.
- Northern Ireland is closing schools for two weeks and shuttering all bars and restaurants for at least a month.
- Wales is weighing a "circuit breaker" lockdown and has announced an unprecedented ban on travel from hot spots elsewhere in the U.K. despite vocal opposition from the government in Westminster.
- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has consistently been out ahead of Johnson in announcing new restrictions. Frustration with Johnson's pandemic performance has contributed to a swell in support for Scottish independence — now at a record-high 58%, according to Ipsos.
The bottom line: The U.K. was remarkably united throughout the first wave. That's not the case heading into the second.
- Johnson's announcement on Friday that the Brexit process has stalled and the U.K. should prepared for a no deal split from the EU at year's end won't help matters.