MPs vote to extend Covid rules to 19 July as daily cases climb past 9,000

Tories rebel even though daily infections hit highest rate since February

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 16 June 2021 23:21
MPs vote to extend Covid lockdown by 401 vote margin

MPs have voted by a margin of 461 to 60 to back Boris Johnson’s plan to extend lockdown restrictions in England to 19 July, despite a rebellion by Tory backbenchers in the House of Commons.

It means limits on numbers for sports events, theatres and cinemas will remain in place, nightclub doors will remain closed and people will be asked to continue working from home where possible.

Several furious Tories rounded on the prime minister for the four-week delay, which he said was forced on him by surging cases of the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19.

That variant could push the R rate up to 7 if left to spread without any restrictions, Susan Hopkins, a Public Health England chief warned. Any value above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially.

Another 9,055 new Covid-19 cases were recorded in 24 hours — the highest since mid-February — nine more people have died.

And health secretary Matt Hancock revealed the number of people taken to hospital suffering serious virus effects jumped by 48 per cent in a week, as the Delta variant continued to spread.

Mr Johnson’s margin of victory for the delay was swollen by 188 Labour votes as 49 Conservative MPs broke ranks to vote against the delay to step 4 of his roadmap out of lockdown, which was initially pencilled in for 21 June. Six Labour MPs and five members of the DUP also voted against, while 125 MPs did not vote.

The scale of opposition – on top of critical comments from cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg – underlines the difficulties facing Mr Johnson.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Tory MP Philip Davies questioned why Mr Johnson was not trusting “the common sense of the British people and his conservative instincts of individual freedom and individual responsibility” rather than the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

The prime minister insisted he did not want to see Covid restrictions last forever but “a little more time” was needed to vaccinate millions more people to help combat the spread of the Delta variant.

And Conservative William Wragg asked: “When can we expect the coordinated chorus of Sage members recommencing their media appearances to depress morale?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I believe that academic and scientific freedom are an invaluable part of our country and I also note that my scientific colleagues would echo my sentiments that we need to learn to live with Covid.”

In a sign that cabinet ministers have concerns about the extension, Commons leader Mr Rees-Mogg told his ConservativeHome podcast: “You can’t run society just to stop the hospitals being full, otherwise you’d never let us get in our cars and drive anywhere or do any of the other things that people want to do, so there has to be some proportionality.”

In a seven-hour debate, a string of senior Tories spoke out against the plan, after the PM admitted he cannot absolutely rule out a further delay if dangerous new strains of the virus emerge.

Former cabinet minister Sir John Redwood said: “It’s time to trust people more, it is time to control people less.”

And ex-minister Tim Loughton said: “I’m done with making excuses to my constituents for when their lives might just get back to some degree of normality.”

Another former member of cabinet, Karen Bradley, said she could not explain to her constituents why they have to wait longer for joyful events like big weddings and family get-togethers.

“Life is about the joy that you can get from these occasions and events, and … we’re constantly being told we can’t have that joy because it will impact on the science,” she said. “We have to accept that we cannot save every life.”

Backbencher Richard Drax accused decision-makers in government of feeling that, with the country “muzzled, acquiescent and fearful”, they were free to “creep out with their shovels and move the goalposts at will”.

And veteran Thatcherite Sir Edward Leigh warned that Mr Johnson faced a backlash at the ballot box for his party.

“This whole debate is a mortal threat to the Conservative Party,” said Sir Edward.

“This is never going to end. At the end of this month, they’ll be another variant … the Peruvian variant, Paddington Bear will be arrested at Paddington station and put in quarantine, it’ll go on and on and on.”

Former minister Huw Merriman said that young people “need to see a return” to normality. He said: “Too many of us making decisions have forgotten what it feels like to be a 20-year-old or how miserable it is to be a 20-year-old right now.

“They have made those sacrifices, they need to see a return. They need to see the return this summer.”

Tory MP for Poole Sir Robert Syms said that just 23 people were in hospital and two in intensive care with Covid in the whole of the southwest of England. In his home county of Dorset there was just one coronavirus patient in hospital.

“The restrictions are totally out of kilter with the sense of the problem,” he said. “(There are) hundreds of couples that want to get married, businesses that want to be viable, people that want to get their lives back in order. I just think the balance is wrong.”

Conservative Steve Baker – a prominent opponent of lockdown restrictions – described the current situation as a “dystopia” and told the Commons: “We have transformed this society for the worse.

“We have put in place a culture of habits which will take years to shake off, culture and habits which distance people from one another and diminish their quality of life, the quality of relationships that they have with one another.”

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