Behind the scenes

Has Boris Johnson learned his lesson on overpromising?

Ministers tempering vaccination expectations after failing to fulfil previous Covid pledges

Mixed messages emerging from Whitehall about the UK’s vaccination targets indicate that Boris Johnson has learned a lesson about reining in public expectations, pundits have suggested.

The Sunday Telegraph yesterday quoted government sources predicting that all over-18s in Britain could be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of June. But in an apparent bid to temper expectations, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that “our target is by September to have offered all the adult population a first dose”.

Latest data on the UK’s vaccination rate is promising, with the NHS carrying out 140 inoculations every minute and the total number of people who have had a Covid jab on course to exceed four million today. That equates to more than 6% of the adult population, placing the UK fourth in the global race to vaccinate populations against the coronavirus, according to Oxford University tracking.

And more than 5.5 million people in the UK who are aged over 70 or clinically extremely vulnerable will begin receiving letters today for vaccine jab appointments, in what Johnson has called a “significant milestone” in the pandemic response.

All the same, ministers are being noticeably cautious in their predictions about the ongoing health crisis.

Politico London Playbook’s Alex Wickham points to a “change in No. 10’s communications strategy” after the prime minister “famously over-promised on ‘turning the tide in 12 weeks’” and on a “return to normality” by Christmas last year.

“Senior Tories insist Downing Street has learned lessons on expectations management,” Wickham reports.

Johnson has also previously set ambitious targets for testing, Christmas household mixing and the overall elimination of the virus.

But even right-leaning newspaper The Telegraph, which traditionally is sympathetic towards Conservative governments, warned last month that the PM’s “dismal pattern of promising one thing and delivering another” was eroding “public faith and trust”.

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