Senior Tories pile pressure on Boris Johnson to end ‘arbitrary’ lockdown ‘as soon as possible’
Boris Johnson will review the restrictive measures later this week.
Senior Conservative MPs have lined up to demand that Boris Johnson lifts “arbitrary” coronavirus lockdown measures “as soon as possible” .
Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said the public may have been “a little too willing” to comply with the lockdown, as a string of MPs raised their concerns about the curbs ahead of the latest review at the end of this week.
Boris Johnson has promised to unveil a “roadmap” for exiting the coronavirus lockdown in the coming days, after declaring that Britain is now “past the peak and on the downward slope”.
But he has cautioned against expecting a dramatic lifting of the strict social distancing measures that have now been in force for more than a month, saying it is “vital that we do not now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain”.
Ministers are concerned that lifting measures too soon could cause the reproduction, or R, rate of the virus to head back above 1, a move which would trigger a second wave.
But, speaking in a Commons debate on Monday, Sir Graham said the latest review should focus on “removing restrictions and removing the arbitrary rules and limitations on freedom as quickly as possible”.
And he said: “The public have been willing to assist. If anything, in some instances, it may be that the public have been a little bit too willing to stay at home.
“I am sure I am not the only Member who has heard from employers who are struggling to fulfil orders because it is difficult to get employees back from furlough.
"We all know how critical it is that they ought to be able to get their workers back so that we make sure that the jobs remain when the furlough period ends.“
Sir Charles Walker, who serves as the vice-chair of the 1922 Committee, said businesses were now facing a “bleak” future, as he warned: “We need to have a frank, open and honest debate about the ethics of trading lives tomorrow to save lives today.“
The Broxbourne MP said: “The lockdown has collapsed demand, and the longer it goes on, the harder it will be for businesses to claw back that demand. Their future is bleak.
"I remind the Minister that the economy is people’s lives. It is our health service, our schools, our policing, our pensions, our roads, our mortgages, our workplace and so many more things. In short, it is us.”
“The people of the United Kingdom should not have to rely on the goodwill of the Prime Minister and the Government or the good sense of police officers in order to go about their lawful business" - Steve Baker MP
That view was echoed by former Cabinet minister Sir John Redwood, who warned that the restrictions were “doing great damage to the livelihoods and incomes of many of my constituents and people around the country” as he urged ministers “to find safe ways to get more people back to work as quickly as possible”.
He said: “It is great news that the NHS has much enhanced capacity. It has tackled the covid-19 waves so well so far and has plenty of capacity, so we must now think about how we get many more people back to work so that they can restore their livelihoods.”
'OVER ZEALOUS' POLICE
Conservative MPs also spoke out against against heavy-handed police enforcement of the rules, with Arundel and South Downs member Andrew Griffith saying: “I’m afraid it was utterly foreseeable to anyone who’s experienced an event much larger than the average parish fete, that into the ambiguous space between legislation and guidance would jump over-zealous police officers and public officials.”
Former minister Steve Baker, who on Sunday night branded some of the lockdown restrictions "absurd, dystopian and tyrannical", acknowledged the Government had “made the right call” in putting the curbs into action “in order to protect lives”.
But he warned that police had begun enforcing the restrictions before legislation had even been passed, “stopping people on trains and, in one case, overturning a barbecue”.
“We must in future make the law and then tell the public that it is.”
And he added: “The people of the United Kingdom should not have to rely on the goodwill of the Prime Minister and the Government or the good sense of police officers in order to go about their lawful business.
“I implore my friends on the frontbench to ensure that we uphold the rule of law and the freedoms on which they depend.”
The Government is also facing pressure from Conservatives not to impose a blanket ban on over-70s leaving the house if lockdown measures are eased.
Former minister Baroness Altman this weekend warned of “civil unrest” if healthy older people were confined to the house while others returned to normal life.
"We cannot introduce specific restrictions for those aged over an arbitrary limit" - Philip Dunne MP
And Sir Graham told the Commons: “We have the healthiest, most active elderly generation of all time, and it would be tragic if the Government threatened that by trying to extend the so-called lockdown for those judged to be most at risk based on age.“
Ludlow MP Philip Dunne urged ministers not to impose “age-related restrictions on individuals”.
He said: “We cannot introduce specific restrictions for those aged over an arbitrary limit — 70-year-olds have been mentioned — without imposing very great inequality, in my view, on healthy individuals, so please do not do that.”
Health minister Edward Argar said the lockdown “had played a crucial role in the success we are seeing in reducing infection transmission levels”.
But he acknowledged: “They impose significant demands upon individuals and society as a whole, with impacts on business, the economy and daily life, and I do understand the sacrifices people are making at this time, their frustrations, and, indeed, their anxieties.
“But these regulations are necessary, because the single most important step we can all take to beating this disease is to stay at home in order to reduce the spread and to protect ourselves and others.“