Tory rebels challenge PM's plans to extend ‘authoritarian’ lockdown powers until October

21 March 2021, 13:53 | Updated: 22 March 2021, 05:42

Government must 'look at the data' on lockdown easing

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson is facing mounting pressure to justify seeking a six-month extension to "authoritarian" lockdown powers in England, amid a Commons rebellion from Conservative MPs.

The Government is expected to receive approval from MPs to extend measures within the Coronavirus Act until October amid fierce criticism from some of its own number that the roadmap out of lockdown isn't fast enough due to the success of the UK's vaccination rollout.

MPs are set to vote this week on whether or not to extend the powers.

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith on Sunday called for the economy to be opened up again and for government scientists to follow data, not dates to get the country back up and running.

Sir Iain was asked during an appearance on Swarbrick on Sunday on LBC whether some types of behaviour, like protesting, might be criminalised for longer than was necessary due to government plans to keep lockdown powers in place for another six months.

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Sir Iain 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.

Boris Johnson is facing a rebellion over extending the Coronavirus lockdown powers for a further six months
Boris Johnson is facing a rebellion over extending the Coronavirus lockdown powers for a further six months. Picture: PA

Sir Iain Duncan Smith: 'Follow the data' on reopening economy

"They keep on inventing reasons why we might have to go into another lockdown."

Sir Iain said the timetable was "looking very slow compared to where we think the reality is."

Senior Tories from the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) have raised concerns over how the plans to keep the powers in place for another six months is consistent with the Prime Minister's pledge to restore the country's freedoms as the vaccine programme rolls out.

Former minister Steve Baker, the CRG's deputy chairman, said he expects to vote against the measures on Thursday.

In a statement, he said: "With so many vulnerable people now vaccinated, people may ask why the restrictions the Government is bringing in this coming week are tougher than they were last summer when we didn't have a vaccine.

"The detention powers in the Coronavirus Act are disproportionate, extreme, and wholly unnecessary.

"Renewing them would not be reconcilable with the Prime Minister's guarantee that we are on a 'one-way road to freedom' by June 21."

CRG chairman Mark Harper, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, also challenged the Government's thinking on its road map to recovery.

He said "reasonable people" would wonder if the Government had struck the right balance in continuing present guidelines curbing family gatherings through Easter.

Mr Harper wrote: "Staying with your family won't just be illegal for Easter weekend, it will be unlawful until May 17 at the earliest - whatever the data say. The road map is 'dates, not data'."

He questioned "draconian" powers in the legislation, adding the police response in the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard last weekend had been partly the result of "poorly drafted" emergency pandemic laws.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth expressed frustration at MPs not being allowed to table amendments and offered to work with senior Conservatives to find a way to do this.

Elsewhere, Professor Jeremy Brown, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), warned a "very large number" of at-risk people could develop a "serious" Covid-19 infection if restrictions are lifted now.

He said between 90% and 95% of people who are at high risk have been vaccinated, but mostly with one dose, which does not provide full protection.