MP: Show plans for removing ‘manacles of state control’ and controlling Covid-19

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Boris Johnson’s Government is “enjoying” its Covid-19 powers “a little bit too much”, a Tory former minister has claimed.

Jake Berry warned liberties and freedoms are being “given away back to the Government in the name of Covid” on a daily basis, and asked for ministers to detail how they will control the virus while removing the “manacles of state control from our hands and from our feet”.

MPs also demanded to see the evidence behind local lockdowns, develop a strategy which allows people to “live meaningful lives” and provide financial support for sectors of the economy hit hardest by the limits on socialising.

The warnings came as the Commons debated local lockdown restrictions in Merseyside, Halton, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) said: “The fact that we are discussing these local restrictions today I believe shows that we should have left lockdown in a sequential way guided by regional data.”

He added: “I think the Government has fallen into that fatal trap of making national decisions based on a London-centric view with London data.”

Mr Berry said it was vital the system was “backed up by strong Treasury support”.

He raised concerns over liberties and freedoms adding: “Day by day we see those liberties and freedoms being given away back to the Government in the name of Covid.

“I’m afraid that has to stop, because once we give these up they will not come back to us, the Government will not return them to us.”

“Police officers fining people for being in their front gardens, a bizarre ban on sunbathing on your own in public open spaces.

“We want to remove the manacles of state control from our hands and from our feet, but we can do that only when we’ve beaten this virus, the minister must say what the measure is that will see that happen.”

Conservative Dr Kieran Mullan (Crewe and Nantwich) called for the Government to “work harder” at proving to MPs that its policies are evidence-based and effective.

Tory former chief whip Mark Harper added: “I don’t think there is going to be a vaccine quickly, and if there is one, I don’t think it is going to be completely effective. So I’m afraid we are going to be having to live with this virus for some time.

“And I use the word live deliberately because we need to have a set of restrictions that enable people to live meaningful lives, the valuable things that have already been talked about by other honourable members – seeing your friends and your family, (Labour’s Julie Elliott) touched upon that – but also in a way that enables the economy to be sustainable.”

Intervening, fellow Tory former minister Steve Baker said: “Does he agree with me that we are reaching a point where people really need some joy in their lives and something to look forward to and only by following such a path will they get that back?”

Conservative Dehenna Davison (Bishop Auckland) highlighted the difficulties for a pub landlord who made his premises Covid-secure but has seen his takings fall dramatically.

Ms Davison said: “Last weekend he told me rather than his usual Saturday take of £5,000 to £6,000, he took only £128 all day – not even enough to cover his entire staffing bill.

“Between the 10 o’clock curfew and the lack of households being able to meet, I’m really concerned these restrictions without additional financial support may have the overall impact of closing pubs not just for lockdown but for good.”

Labour former minister Angela Eagle added: “We can’t have lockdowns, or get the virus down, on the cheap. It makes no sense to withdraw the support that kept everybody going earlier in the year while the pandemic is actually coming back and still raging.”

Labour MP Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) also said winding down the furlough scheme now makes it “much more difficult” for people to protect themselves.

Replying for the Government, Health minister Helen Whately spoke of the need to supress the virus and of a willingness to listen and adapt.

She went on: “There are no easy answers… restrictions on our social contacts are going to be hard to live with.”

MPs agreed the regulations without a formal vote.

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