One Year On, MPs Reflect On Boris Johnson's Life-Changing Lockdown Order
One year ago today Boris Johnson made an announcement that radically altered the lives of people in the UK and will go down in national history.
On Monday, 23 March 2020, the Prime Minister ordered people to stay at home and only leave for essential reasons as the country went into strict lockdown for the first time.
In a televised address, Johnson said that the UK faced a "moment of national emergency" as the coronavirus rampaged across the country, quickly pushing the NHS close to tipping point.
However, very few people — the Prime Minister included — expected that one year later the country would still be living under extraordinary restrictions. The gradual re-opening of the economy will get underway next month, according to the government's roadmap for lifting lockdown measures.
Nor did many people expect the illness to have such a devastating impact on public health: over 125,000 people in the UK have died after testing positive for the coronavirus. Many more have been hospitalised, while some are still suffering its effects several months after catching it.
PoliticsHome asked MPs and peers from across the political spectrum to reflect on how they felt as the Prime Minister made that historic and life-changing announcement one year ago today.
Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire:
"It is hard to believe that it is a year since the first lockdown. At the time, I remember feeling astonished by the Prime Minister’s message that we had to close everything and stay at home. He is a big believer in liberty and freedom, so this showed clearly the seriousness of the situation.
"My team and I were immediately inundated with constituents’ requests and the needs of many for practical help with groceries and medication.
"Yet, despite the terrible situation we were in, I felt so fortunate to share that time with my husband and children, all working from home and able to enjoy the spring weather".
Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central:
"With each passing day, the news was becoming more grim.
"On 23 March we spent a lot of the day as MPs discussing remotely how Parliament was going to have to change the way it worked. I watched the Prime Minister’s statement at 8:30pm and thought: these measures are inevitable, but will they be enough?”Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion:
"After weeks of prevarication and really muddled messaging, I was overwhelmingly relieved that the Government was finally – finally – grasping the seriousness of the situation, taking action and being clear for once about what it wanted people to do.
"I remember one of my first concerns was how we could support people through this incredibly difficult time as shops, restaurants, pubs and other businesses were shuttered. But it wasn't only them – it was all those who work in the gig economy, freelancers, the self-employed.
"Sadly, 12 months later, I'm still having to press their case and that of small limited company directors with the Chancellor who is still ignoring them – it’s a scandal that so many have had absolutely no support at all".
Ian Blackford, Westminster leader of the Scottish National Party and MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber:
"When the Prime Minister made his first lockdown announcement it was after days of anticipation.
"Like many people, I felt the UK Government had been behind the curve and acting too slowly, so although it was a worrying time there was a sense of relief that finally Boris Johnson had taken decisive action.
"At the time, I was working in Parliament. A small group of SNP MPs, myself included, decided to stay in London to attend parliamentary business in Westminster until recess, to minimise the travel back and forth to our constituencies and the risk of spreading the virus.
"A year ago, we could not have imagined the so many lives lost, the sacrifices which people continue to make, and the deep sense of gratitude I think we will always feel for our frontline workers".Sajid Javid, Conservative MP for Bromsgrove:
"March 23rd was a day of mixed emotions. I worried about whether anyone would be able to look after my mother, who is elderly and lives alone.
"I was concerned about the wellbeing of my constituents, many of whom feared losing their livelihoods or, in the case of those who were clinically vulnerable, their lives.
"Mostly I felt a sense of relief.
"By the time COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, it had become clear that the best way of preventing the health service from being overrun was to break the chain of transmission.
"The Prime Minister’s speech that night marked a step change in the government’s response, and gave the country a sense of purpose as it came to terms with the biggest challenge we’ve faced for decades".
Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Kingston and Surbiton:
"We knew lockdown had been on the horizon for a few weeks — and as a party we had been calling for a it. But, when the PM eventually said ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ of course the personal reality of what lockdown would mean crystallised.
"It wasn’t the work side — I knew that could be resolved. It was the implications for my children — my daughter’s schooling and my son’s education and care: my son John is severely disabled and needs a lot of care — so I knew it was going to be tough, for me and my wife.
"Then of course I started to think of all the other carers, many of whom don’t have a steady income or a spacious home.
"And it was absolutely clear politics would go on hold, and the situation for our country was perilous".Nicky Morgan, Conservative life peer and former Cabinet minister:
"I was at home in Loughborough and made my 12 year old son watch the Prime Minister’s announcement because it felt as if history was being made by the minute.
"There was a real sense of the whole country stepping into the unknown – perhaps it was a good thing no-one really knew what to expect – and a sense of shock that lives had ground to a halt so suddenly. I realised that all the post-Government plans I had made, both for work but also for travel with the family had turned to dust but I was most sorry for those pupils whose physical time at school that year, and in some cases forever, ended almost without notice.
"I also felt enormous sympathy for my former colleagues in Government who were making impossible decisions in such an uncertain environment.
"I think many of us had a sense of wanting to do something so I had set up a village WhatsApp group which is still operating and gets used to share all sorts of information – including now about vaccination availability although at the time it was mainly about offering to shop for each other".
Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP for Denton & Reddish:
"When the Prime Minister made his lockdown announcement, I was already in a mini lockdown of my own. Having developed Covid symptoms the previous week, I was isolating from the rest of my family and feeling fairly horrendous.
"Experiencing Coronavirus first-hand and seeing how quickly it tore through my workplace in the weeks leading up to lockdown, the measures shouldn’t have come as much of a shock, but seeing them announced by the Prime Minister on TV still sent a bit of a shiver down the spine".Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said:
“The atmosphere at Westminster on 23 March was not like anything I had experienced before, with the corridors so much quieter than normal and a real sense of anxiety in the air about what was unfolding. Late that afternoon Mr Speaker held a meeting in his office with select committee chairs and officials to discuss the technical challenges involved in getting our committees set up to work remotely. Zoom was just beginning to enter our vocabulary.
"Meanwhile the emails were already pouring in from concerned constituents who were experiencing real fears about their health and livelihoods. Some were stranded in faraway locations unable to get flights home; for others it was the struggle to find bread on empty supermarket shelves. It was the beginning of an extraordinary year which has changed our nation in so many ways".
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale:
“I remember feeling that it was the right thing to do but worried if we’d left it too late. I feared for what it meant for my dad who had recently had a heart attack and for my father in law with Alzheimer’s.
“But I also what worried about what it meant for my kids as they faced major exams and studying from home. More broadly I was concerned about how it would affect for my constituents and what this decision would mean for their livelihoods".
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