Covid lockdown laws extended for another six months despite major Tory revolt

25 March 2021, 17:11 | Updated: 26 March 2021, 14:32

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

MPs have voted in favour of a six-month extension to the government's coronavirus lockdown legal powers despite fierce criticism from Tory rebels.

The vote to extend the Coronavirus Act passed by 484 to 76, a 408 majority, in the face of vociferous opposition from a number of Conservative rebels over the past week.

Ministers consider the extension of restrictions as a necessary part of Boris Johnson's roadmap out of England's lockdown, despite the prime minister previously saying it was "irreversible".

However, backbench Tories responsible for the rebellion have branded the plan "disproportionate, extreme, and wholly unnecessary" due to their infringement on civil liberties.

They have also argued that the success of the vaccination programme means lockdown measures are not needed for this long, given that the PM expects all restrictions to be lifted by 21 June.

Some 35 Conservatives, 21 Labour MPs and 10 Liberal Democrats were among those who voted against extending coronavirus laws, the Commons division list shows.

Read more: Govt struggles to defend six-month extension to lockdown powers

Analysis: Why rebel Tories say the data for lifting lockdown is on their side

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Tory MP for Chingford & Woodford Green, told LBC why he chose not to support the government's extension to the Coronavirus Act - although he did not vote against it.

The ex-Conservative leader said he thinks six months is "excessive" and added the government has "not yet produced a single reason why they need to get to October".

He said, "what you want and what you need are two different things", adding "you do not need to have the powers extended to October".

Sir Iain also said he recognised a need to extend the powers for two months or so, hence his decision not to vote against the bill.

Following the vote, Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, said the UK risks "normalising extreme policy" by passing this extension.

Read more: Covid protest ban to be lifted in England as Govt 'U-turns' on measures

Watch: Tory rebels challenge PM's plan to extend lockdown powers until October

Mr Johnson had said he wants the limits to be removed "once and for all" and to avoid once again plunging the country back into social distancing measures.

But some of his backbenchers have called on their leader to speed up plans for reopening the country.

Steve Baker MP, the deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), this week told LBC the hospitality sector should be reopened for the Easter weekend to give it a boost after months of suffering.

"The sun is coming out, the vulnerable are getting vaccinated, but Easter is a major time for hospitality," he said.

"That's a really massive cost for some of the younger and poorer people in our society, working in hospitality, and they won't be able to get their businesses and livelihoods back on track at that time.

"At the moment, it looks like the data is better than anyone's best estimates. I do certainly think the prime minister should be willing, in following the data, to bring the plan forwards because of the costs of the plan."

The CRG has pointed towards the latest data as evidence for speeding up the removal of lockdown measures.

On Wednesday, the UK reported another 5,605 cases and 98 deaths, while more than 28 million people have now been given their first vaccine dose, with 2.5 million of those also receiving their second jab.

Earlier in the week, Care Minister Helen Whatley struggled to justify the measures when challenged by LBC’s Nick Ferrari.

She told the radio presenter that Mr Johnson is clear 21 June is the earliest restrictions can be removed, and insisted: "We are being driven by the data rather than the dates."

However, Nick insisted this did not justify renewing all Coronavirus Act powers that the government has “enjoyed for the best part of a year”, reiterating “why do we need to take that through to possibly October?”

Later that day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC he will see what the government puts on the table but his “default position” on the extension will be to support it.

However, over the weekend a number of senior Conservative MPs raised concerns about the government’s "draconian" plans.

During an appearance on LBC’s Swarbrick on Sunday, former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “We're getting mixed messages from the scientists, I must say.

“They said originally that they would be led by the data, not the dates. The problem is now it appears they are being led by the dates, not the data.

“It's very clear that everything is going to plan with regards to the vaccines, and the protection of the UK public, the figures are falling - dramatically."

From next week, as part of the package of new laws, people who leave the UK without a reasonable excuse could be fined up to £5,000 but outdoor protests will be explicitly allowed again.

It comes after mass anti-lockdown demonstrations took place in London last weekend, with thousands of people taking to the streets to protest. Multiple arrests were made and protesters were filmed in heated clashes with police.