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Emergency Covid rules will continue for another six months despite a rebellion by two dozen Conservative MPs seeking a quicker easing of lockdown restrictions.
The Commons vote to extend the Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed by 484 to 76, with 25 Conservatives voting against the government, a reasonably significant rebellion if below some predictions.
The Liberal Democrats also opposed the extension, as did the DUP and 21 Labour MPs, who defied party instructions to support the measure.
While the government’s 80-seat Commons majority, added to Labour’s support for the measures, meant a win was never in doubt, Boris Johnson and his ministers will have noted the scale and variety of objections from backbenchers.
MPs opted to pass without a vote regulations connected to the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, which were considered in the same debate but treated as a separate matter for voting.
Matt Hancock prompted alarm among some Tory backbenchers by refusing to rule out the need for a further extension in six months’ time. He said his preference would be not to extend: “But given the last year, I think a prediction would be hasty.”
Mark Harper, the former chief whip who now leads the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs who are seeking a more rapid route out of lockdown, intervened in the health secretary’s speech to say such comments were “why so many of us are worried”.
Harper said: “These are extraordinary provisions, not for normal times, and they should be expired at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Hancock sought to portray the extended laws and the roadmap as “a one-way route to freedom” but said caution was still needed despite better-than-expected data for both vaccine take-up and its efficacy.
In his own speech in the debate, Harper said he backed the general approach, adding: “My own quarrel is the pace, not the direction of travel.
“There will be jobs that are lost, businesses that fail, and people who find the personal burden incredibly difficult, who don’t need to go through that for another two months if we were to reopen safely earlier,” Harper said.
Acknowledging some good elements in the act, Harper argued that he would nonetheless vote no because other parts “are sufficiently bad and unwarranted that they don’t deserve to continue”.
Steve Baker, another former minister who is now deputy head of the CRG, said he was voting against the extension in part to oppose “extreme, unnecessary and disproportionate” elements of the act, such as schedule 21, which gives police and other services sweeping powers to use against “potentially infectious” people.
Jeremy Wright, who formerly served as culture secretary and attorney general, called for the last two steps of the four-stage unlocking plan to be combined, meaning most restrictions would end in May, not June.
Wright argued that the lockdown metric of transmission rates should be changed to a focus on the much-reduced risk of death or serious illness, given the proportion of vulnerable people who had been vaccinated.
Even some Tories who backed the extension said they were doing so with misgivings. Bill Wiggin, MP for North Herefordshire, said he would have to “dig deep into the loyalty vault” to vote yes.
Perhaps the most vehement speech against the bill, and certainly the most unusual, came from the MP for Broxbourne, Charles Walker. He predicted that “as sure as eggs are eggs”, ministers would return in six months to seek another extension, before switching metaphors to deliver a convoluted and not entirely clear message based around milk.
“For the next few days I am going to walk around London with a pint of milk on my person, because that pint will represent my protest,” Walker said, saying the protest, and the milk, would represent “this country’s slide into authoritarianism”.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: UK’s emergency Covid rules extended for another six months | World news