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Lockdown-Sceptic MPs Call For New Laws To Prevent Coronavirus Restrictions Without Parliamentary Scrutiny

Steve Baker is deputy chair of the Covid Research Group of backbench MPs (BBC)

4 min read

Members of the Covid Research Group (CRG) of backbench MPs have called for a new Public Health Act to “force the government to prove the proportionality” of future lockdowns.

The government is set to propose a route out of the current restrictions on 22 February, and has insisted their approach will be cautious and staggered in order to prevent a new surge in infections, angering lockdown-sceptics in government.

“At present, we simply do not have the right machinery of government to make and present good decisions which inspire unity,” Steve Baker, deputy chair of the CRG, wrote in The Telegraph.

“That’s why we need a new Public Health Act: an improved set of democratic checks and balances which would provide greater confidence in decisions and prevent a Government from overreaching,” he continued. 

Suggested new legislation would require ministers to “weigh up the benefits and harms of each proposed restriction” in regards to its impact on health, education and the economy, Baker added.

As of Sunday, more than 15million people in the UK had received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. But while coronavirus cases and deaths are declining the numbers remain high, with 879 deaths recorded over the weekend. 

It comes as the Treasury select committee published a report which criticised the “disappointing” lack of economic analysis of the impact of coronavirus measures and called for greater transparency.

In a letter to the government last week, the CRG, writing on behalf of around 60 Tory MPs, said that there would be “no justification” for coronavirus restrictions to remain in place beyond the end of April as the top nine priority groups should have been offered the vaccine by then.

The CRG demands included ensuring that all pupils are back in school by 8 March, reopening hospitality venues by Easter and an end to all legislative restrictions by 1 May. 

"We've set out a very careful process in our letter to tie the removal of restrictions to the rollout of vaccines," Tory MP Mark Harper, chair of the CRG, told LBC’s Tom Swarbick on Sunday.

"All these rules were put in place to save lives and protect the NHS – and, actually, the life-saving and the NHS protection is going to be done by the vaccine - not by these restrictions,” he continued. 

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab yesterday branded their targets “arbitrary”, but Baker defended the CRG’s approach on Monday, calling Raab’s analysis “simply wrong”.

“The reality is that what we've said is intimately connected with the vaccine rollout plan and that's something to be celebrated,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We know these vaccines work," Baker said. "That's why the government should now be opening schools, because we can't afford to be cavalier about the harm to children.

“And we've said that other restrictions which remain in place should be safe and should be proportionate to the harms which COVID is then capable of causing.”

Baker also cited the new report from the Treasury select committee — of which he is a member — which said the government needed to publish a cost-benefit analysis of all future Covid-19 restrictions alongside a route out of lockdown.

“To provide this confidence, the government must set out the criteria for how and when it will lift lockdown restrictions,” Mel Stride, the committee’s chairman, explained.

The report said: “The lack of analysis on social restrictions is disappointing. It should be more transparent about the economic analysis that it undertakes to inform government decisions.”

It continued: “[MPs] should not be asked to take a view on proposals that have far-reaching consequences for the general population without the support of appropriate and comprehensive economic analysis.”

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