Boris in battle with anti-lockdown MPs over plans to extend 'draconian' Covid powers

8 September 2021, 16:31 | Updated: 8 September 2021, 19:02

No10 to extend Covid powers 'in case they are needed' as cases rise
No10 to extend Covid powers 'in case they are needed' as cases rise. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Boris Johnson is facing another potential rebellion as he looks to extend emergency Covid powers for another six months.

The Government wants to keep hold of its temporary abilities as infections in England continue to rise, but it says the reintroduction of strict measures would be a "last resort".

The Coronavirus Act gives the Government a number of emergency powers such as the ability to close schools and introduce restrictions on gatherings and events, as well as implement things like temporary eviction bans.

But its renewal may see a rebellion from some MPs, with 30 Tories having previously voted against the Government when the Act was last extended in March.

The figure is expected to be even higher this time, although Labour is showing no indication of voting against it.

Tory MP David Davis tweeted: "The Coronavirus Act contains some of the most draconian powers ever introduced in the UK.

"Thankfully, the crisis point of the pandemic has passed. So it is now time to roll back the extensive powers unwisely handed over to the State."

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Mark Harper, the Conservative MP who chairs the influential Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptics, said there was no need to renew the legislation which contained "the most draconian detention powers in modern British legal history", citing the provisions for indefinite detention.

"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," he said to the FT.

Lisa Nandy: Support for Covid power extension cannot be ruled out yet

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.

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"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."

Cases have been rising steadily since the end of July, alongside concern that the return of schools might see an even sharper increase.

There was speculation on Monday that ministers were preparing plans for an October 'firebreak' lockdown, with school half-term holidays set to double in length if Covid hospitalisations keep rising.

The claim was made by a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) who said the contingency plan has been put in place as a last resort in case the NHS comes under immense pressure.

However, both Downing Street and vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi denied the reports.

When LBC's Nick Ferrari asked Mr Zahawi about the claim, the MP said he had seen no such plans.

He added that the vaccine booster programme would allow the Government to "continue on a one-way streak of keeping the economy open without having to regress into other non-pharmaceutical interventions".

Will there be new rules on masks or a new lockdown?

Similarly, the Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters: "No, it is not true that the Government is planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half-term.

"I think Nadhim Zahawi was asked a similar question this morning and made that clear as well.

"We have retained contingency plans as part of responsible planning for a range of scenarios, but these kind of measures would only be reintroduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on our NHS.

"I think we've been clear throughout that we will take action, and indeed we have done when necessary to protect our NHS.

"But under the previous occasions when that action has been required, we have been without the significant defences that our vaccination programme provides us - we're now in a much different phase."

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Ahead of the final easing of restrictions on July 19, Boris Johnson said he wanted the end of lockdown to be irreversible.

However, he warned that the Government will retain "contingency measures", with some experts concerned about a higher risk of Covid and a flu resurgence in the winter.

"We will continue to monitor the data and retain contingency measures to help manage the virus during higher risk periods such as the winter, but we will place an emphasis on strengthened guidance and do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions with all the costs that they bring," Mr Johnson said.

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