Extreme lockdown laws extended for a further six months despite major Tory revolt

Coronavirus Act in place until October with Labour backing - despite growing Conservative anger

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 25 March 2021 21:08
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MPs vote to extend Coronavirus Act

Draconian lockdown laws imposed one year ago have been extended for a further six months, despite a major Tory revolt.

The Coronavirus Act – granting powers over everything from school closures and public gatherings to the detention of infected people – was renewed by MPs, by 484 votes to 76.

Conservative anger centred on the decision to renew the crackdown until October – three months beyond the promised lifting of restrictions in June, as set out under Boris Johnson’s timetable.

Mark Harper, a leading Tory rebel, said June was “the roadmap’s supposed end”, warning: “A further renewal in October until March 2022 wasn’t ruled out by the government.”

Earlier, new regulations to authorise restrictions during the easing of the lockdown in the weeks to come were approved without a vote.

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The result was not in doubt once Labour confirmed it would continue to support the sweeping laws, despite raising doubts over whether the ban on protests is being lifted as promised.

Thirty-five Conservative MPs rebelled, joining 21 Labour MPs, the 10 Liberal Democrats, the 7 Democratic Unionists and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas. The SNP did not vote.

The Act, which was imposed at the start of pandemic and requires fresh backing from MPs every six months, also grants powers over food supplies, as well as changes to sick pay.

During the debate, the health secretary Matt Hancock  refused to rule out a further extension in the autumn, pointing to the threat from new Covid-19 variants emerging.

A string of Tory MPs spoke out, including Sir Graham Brady, who urged MPs to “trust the British people and return their rights to them”.

The chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives warned: “The danger is the government starts to believe that these fundamental civil liberties belong to ministers to grant to us or withhold.”

He said: “Does the government have the right to tell people whether they can see their children or their grandchildren, whether they can start a relationship with someone? My answer is an emphatic no.”

Desmond Swayne, another former minister, warned of “total social control”, pointing to Mr Johnson’s hint that “you will have to provide your vaccination bona fides when you go to the pub”.

And Charles Walker, vice chair of the 1922 Committee, revealed a bizarre protest plan, which would involve walking around London with a pint of milk.

In future, he would be sitting with his family and would “spot that pint of milk on the table”, he told MPs.

“And that pint shall remind me that the act of protest is a freedom, a freedom not a right, and unless you cherish freedoms every day – unless you fight for freedoms every day – they end up being taken away from you,” Mr Walker said.

The Lib Dems voted against giving the government what they called a “blank cheque” – arguing that many of the powers granted had never been used.

And Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader currently suspended from the party, said he would join about 20 leftwingers opposing the extension.

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