12 key political moments in 2021 from a third lockdown to Matt Hancock affair

AS BRITS end 2021 facing the threat of fresh Covid restrictions to blunt a dangerous new variant, it may feel like nothing's changed at all in the past year.

Yet it's been a rollercoaster 12 months that's tested the public's mettle as the pandemic looked to be fizzling out only to rear up once again.

Politicians have come under the microscope for their decisions at home and abroad – sparking promotions, demotions, resignations and sackings.

Meanwhile the country's turbo-charged vaccine rollout has been a constant source of national pride and Boris Johnson's crowning achievement.

But the PM ends the year wounded after a string of woes that's left him desperate to reset his premiership in 2022.

Here are the main political events that have shaped the past year…

January 4 – PM announces third lockdown

After bleak signs over Christmas, Boris Johnson finally confirmed what we’d all been dreading and plunged England into a third national lockdown.

The immortal instruction to “stay at home” was revived once again as infections sky-rocketed among a largely unvaccinated population.

In a national telly address he said: "Thanks to the miracle of science, not only is the end in sight and we know exactly how we will get there.

"But for now, I am afraid, you must once again stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives."

April 12 – Pubs reopen

Pints flowed once again as the nation's drinkers toasted the reopening of pubs in England.

After four months shuttered, boozers and restaurants were allowed to welcome back punters for outdoor service only.

Millions braved the spring chill to raise a glass with up to five mates in beer gardens across the country.

Some hardened troopers were memorably even seen tucking into a Full English in the pouring rain.

May 7 – Labour loses Hartlepool

Boris Johnson cruised to an historic victory in the Hartlepool by-election as the Tories thrashed Labour by 7,000 votes in their usual stronghold.

It was a wounding first test of Sir Keir Starmer's leadership as the party lost the seat they'd held since its creation in 1974.

The drubbing set the tone for that day's dire local election results and saw Labour lefties sharpen their knives for Sir Keir.

It also cemented the PM's seemingly unassailable position and – riding high in the polls on a vaccine bounce – spurred speculation he was eyeing a decade in power.

May 30 – Boris secretly marries Carrie

Boris and Carrie tied the knot in a secret ceremony at Westminster Cathedral that caught even close aides off guard.

Only close friends and family of the Downing St couple – including their son Wilf – were present.

Guests then partied in the No10 garden into the early hours as they toasted the first marriage of a sitting PM in almost 200 years.

June 25 – Hancock's affair exposed

Britain woke to the explosive news that Matt Hancock had been having an affair which broke lockdown rules.

The Sun sensationally revealed bombshell footage of the Health Secretary during a steamy clinch with top aide Gina Coladangelo in his ministerial office.

Mr Hancock subsequently left his wife Martha – mother to his three children – and resolved to continue his relationship with the also married adviser.

The story was an earthquake in both Westminster and beyond and was named best scoop of the year at the national press awards.

July 19 – Freedom Day

All remaining lockdown restrictions in England were torn up in the final stage of reopening society.

Step 4 on the PM's roadmap was originally pencilled for June 21, but was postponed until July 19 thanks to the highly-infectious Delta variant.

So-called Freedom Day saw nightclubs reopen, work from home guidance ditched and mask rules for shops also binned.

Only a handful of measures remained in place such as travel rules and self-isolation, which triggered the nightmare "pingdemic".

August 28 – UK troops leave Afghanistan

The last remaining British troops left Afghanistan, concluding the biggest military evacuation operation since Dunkirk.

Botched attempts to prolong the withdrawal period forced Western nations to scramble citizens and soldiers out of Kabul after the Taliban seized power.

In less than two weeks, more than 15,000 people have been airlifted to safety, including 5,000 British nationals, thanks to Operation Pitting.

However Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab came under fire for staying on holiday as the militants marched on Kabul – although insisted he was hard at work.

September 16 – Cabinet reshuffle

The PM launched the second reshuffle of his premiership ahead of the Conservative Party conference.

A brutal clear-out of ministers like Robert Buckland and Gavin Williamson made way for fresh talent such as Nadhim Zahawi and Nadine Dorries.

Embattled Dominic Raab was demoted to Justice Secretary (with a sweetener role as Deputy PM to soften the blow) as Liz Truss became the first Tory female Foreign Secretary.

October 15 – Sir David Amess killed

Tory MP Sir David Amess was tragically stabbed to death while holding a surgery in his Southend constituency.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is standing trial accused of murdering the veteran Tory and dad-of-five.

The killing sparked nationwide mourning and reignited calls to bolster the protection afforded to MPs.

In a moving session MPs paid tribute to their colleague in the Commons – and the PM granted Sir David's lifelong wish by making Southend a city.

October 27 – Rishi's booze Budget

Rishi Sunak swiped the nation's credit card with a cash-splashing Budget of cheaper booze, Universal Credit boosts and minimum wage hikes.

The Chancellor seized upon an economic bounceback to reveal a "historically" big £150bn pot to fund a blizzard of fresh announcements.

Among the eye-catching policies was a shake-up of alcohol duty that knocked 3p off the price of a £3.80 pint and 64p off a bottle of £18 English sparking wine.

But Mr Sunak also clobbered Brits with the highest taxes since the Second World War.

December 7 – No10 party storm

Bombshell footage emerged of No10 aides joking about an allegedly lockdown-busting party in Downing St last Christmas.

Leaked video showed the PM's then press secretary Allegra Stratton taking mock questions about the event when London was in Tier 3 restrictions, banning social gatherings.

Ms Stratton tearfully resigned after the footage emerged and Mr Johnson ordered an inquiry into the gathering.

December 8 – Plan B

In a blow for millions of Brits the PM pulled the the trigger on Plan B measures to stem the growing tide of the Omicron variant.

People were told to work from home, wear masks indoors and show vaccine passports at large venues.

While felt long overdue by gloomy scientists, the decision was lashed by distraught bosses.

Tory MPs also delivered the biggest rebellion of Mr Johnson's premiership as more than 100 voted against the curbs in Parliament.

It came at a busy time for the PM – whose baby daughter Romy was born the next day.

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