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No chance of earlier lockdown release, says chancellor

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has ruled out any chance of a speedier end to lockdown, telling Sky News the last thing businesses needed was a “stop, start” return to normal life.

Mr Sunak told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the road map the prime minister had set out was the right “cautious but irreversible approach”.

But he added there was a “sense of confidence and optimism about the future”.

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The four stages of England's lockdown lifting
Image: The four stages of England’s lockdown lifting

Asked whether, if the data was better than expected, the PM’s road map could happen quicker, he said: “What we want is a cautious but irreversible approach.

“Those will be the earliest dates that we think we can do the various things we’ve laid out.

“But we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it is hopefully irreversible – that’s what we want to see.”

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He added: “What businesses don’t want is a stop-start approach to this, we want to know that it’s a one-way road and that’s why it’s cautious.

“We’ve given the earliest of dates to give a sense of timing and a sense of direction and then obviously we might have to adjust those if things are not going exactly as we would like, but look the early signs are promising.”

His comments came after he also gave a reassurance he would do “whatever it took” to support businesses and families in the climb out of lockdown.

Pubs, restaurants, shops and other businesses hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic will be boosted by a £5bn grant scheme to help them reopen as the lockdown is eased.

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Mr Sunak is expected to detail the “restart grants” – worth up to £6,000 per premises – to help non-essential retailers reopen and trade safely at his Budget on Wednesday.

And his upbeat messages continued.

He went on: “We’re seeing great news with the rollout of the vaccine, not just the take-up of it but also the efficacy of the vaccine.

“The data that we’re getting is showing us it is working, so I think that should give us all a sense of confidence and optimism about the future – that we can make progress on the road map and hopefully slowly get our lives back to normal.”

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