BORIS Johnson has said that banning Christmas celebrations would be “frankly inhumane and against the instincts of many people in this country”.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister instead urged people to “exercise personal responsibility” and have a “merry little Christmas”.

His comments came after four-­nation agreement that it was now too late to undo the pause in restrictions agreed just last month.

With a rising number of cases, and a new variant of Covid-19 discovered, the decision to allow up to three households to form bubbles, and mix between December 23 and 27, has come under increasing pressure.

On Tuesday, in their first joint ­editorial in 100 years, the BMJ and the Health Service Journal yesterday called the relaxation “a major error” warning that the governments were “about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer raised the comments during Prime Minister’s Questions, calling the Christmas reprieve Johnson’s “next big mistake”.

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Johnson accused the Labour chief of trying to cancel Christmas.

“I can tell him that as of today and just this morning, there is ­actually unanimous agreement across all the UK governments, across all the ­devolved administrations, ­including members of all parties, including his own, that we should ­proceed, in ­principle, with the existing ­regulations because we don’t want to criminalise people’s long made plans.”

However, just hours later the Welsh Government moved to change the regulations, legislating to make two households the – plus an additional single person who lives alone – the maximum number allowed in a ­bubble.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said the two household rule would be the “recommendation” of the Scottish Government.

She also urged visitors to stay just one night.

Johnson said that although the ­legal position would not change in ­England, people should exercise ­“extreme caution” over Christmas.

The Prime Minister told the Downing Street press conference: “We’ve decided that the overall situation is alas worse, more challenging than we hoped when we first set the rules.

“While it would not be right to criminalise people who made plans and simply want to spend time with their loved ones, we’re collectively, across the UK, governments at every level, asking you to think hard and in detail about the days ahead.

“We’re keeping the laws the same but we all want to send the same message: a smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas.

“When we say three households can meet on five days I want to stress these are maximums and not targets to aim for.

“It’s always going to be safest to minimise the number of people you meet. That means if you are visiting others over Christmas we’re asking you in the five days beforehand, as early as this Friday, to reduce the number of people you are in contact with to the lowest possible.

“If possible don’t travel from a high prevalence to a lower prevalence area and avoid staying away from home overnight if you can.”

The Prime Minister said people should avoid crowds.

Johnson said: “And whatever your plans for Christmas, please think carefully about avoiding crowds in the Boxing Day sales.

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“And no one should be gathering in large groups to see in the New Year.”

After ministers suggested earlier that “Easter can be the new Christmas”, Johnson advised: “If you have an elderly relative, you might want to delay seeing them until they’ve been vaccinated.”

He said: “Have yourselves a little Merry Christmas. And I’m afraid this year, I do mean little.”

He said the decision was partly informed by “how people are going to behave anyway.”

“So what we’re trying to do is to set the parameters that we think are sensible,” he said.

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said: “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s sensible in any way,” he said.

“You wouldn’t, for example, drive at 70mph if there was a very icy road even though the law might say 70mph is what you officially can drive at.”

The UK recorded a further 25,161 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, along with 612 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.