Boris Johnson will battle Tory MPs to extend Covid laws ‘in case of winter lockdown’

Anti-lockdown backbenchers vow to fight plan to renew ‘draconian’ powers until March 2022

Adam Forrest
Friday 03 September 2021 16:32
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Related video: Boris Johnson ‘hopeful’ of no more lockdowns

Boris Johnson’s government is preparing for a battle over the renewal of emergency Covid legislation giving No 10 the power to impose another lockdown if cases surge this winter.

The prime minister is set for a clash with anti-lockdown Conservative MPs, who claim the country must “learn to live” with the virus without handing the government “draconian” powers indefinitely.

But in a sign No 10 is considering the possibility of fresh restrictions in the months ahead, the government said it wanted to “retain these powers in case they are needed through the winter”.

MPs will vote next week on whether to keep the Coronavirus Act, the sweeping emergency powers brought in back in March 2020 which must be renewed every six months.

Former Brexit minister David Davis said the legislation “contains some of the most draconian powers ever introduced in the UK”.

The Tory MP added: “Thankfully, the crisis point of the pandemic has passed. It is now time to roll back the extensive powers unwisely handed over to the state.”

Fellow Tory MP Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of backbench sceptics, is firmly opposed to another extension – arguing that the time for strict regulations had passed.

“Our vaccine rollout has been a huge success. We have seen a dramatic and welcome fall in people suffering from serious disease and death from Covid as a result,” Mr Harper told the Financial Times.

The CRG chairman added: “We are going to have to learn to live with this virus. What justification can there be for extending these measures?”

Former health secretary Matt Hancock said in March this year that he hoped it would not be necessary to renew the emergency regulations again in the autumn.

But the government said it was necessary to extend the legislation – which allows the closure of venues and lets the police force those suspected of having Covid into isolation – until March 2022 in case more restrictions were needed this winter.

Ministers also fear that allowing the powers to expire would hamper the government’s ability to protect renters from eviction during the pandemic.

MPs voted by 484 to 76 to extend the law for six months earlier this year. Despite protests about “draconian detention powers”, only 36 Tory MPs and 21 Labour MPs voted against it.

The CRG of anti-lockdown sceptics expects a greater number of rebels from the Tory backbenchers to next week, but Labour is expected to back its renewal.

A government spokesperson said: “We will allow temporary powers in the Coronavirus Act to expire wherever possible, as we have at previous review points.

“However, it would be irresponsible to allow all temporary provisions to expire. Doing so would remove the government’s ability to protect renters from eviction, give sick pay to those self-isolating from day one, and direct schools to reopen where needed, for example.

“The British public would expect us to retain these powers in case they are needed through the winter.”

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