Boris Johnson’s lockdown plans come under fire from Conservative MPs

A person walks past a social distancing sign near the High Street in Winchester, Hampshire
A person walks past a social distancing sign near the High Street in Winchester, Hampshire (PA Wire)
17:52pm, Tue 03 Nov 2020
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Ministers must accept Covid-19 will cause a “certain number of deaths” and move away from implementing lockdowns, Conservative MPs have said.

Boris Johnson’s tactics to combat the spread of the virus came under fire from some of his backbenchers in Parliament, with the Government accused of effectively believing it can “halt death”.

A second national lockdown for England is set to come into force on Thursday and run until December 2.

Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset, told a Westminster Hall debate: “Lockdowns, in most people’s view, do not work.

A draconian, onerous and invasive set of rules and regulations now govern our very existence

“They simply delay the inevitable – the re-emergence of the virus when lockdown ends, as has been shown.”

He said the Government is pursuing an approach involving a “rollercoaster ride of lockdowns and release” until a vaccine is found, adding: “Last month, the virus was the 19th most common cause of death.

“Have we overreacted? Yes, I think we have. A draconian, onerous and invasive set of rules and regulations now govern our very existence.”

Mr Drax said he agreed with the “house arrest” description, adding: “I cannot recall, and I’m 62, a moment in our proud island history where our nation has been so cowed to the extent it is now.”

He went on to describe his “huge admiration” for those working in the NHS, before adding: “The Government slogan ‘stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ has the wrong emphasis I feel.

“The NHS is here to protect us and not the other way round.”

He also said: “We must sadly accept a certain number of deaths although, as I’ve said, everything must be done to keep the figure as low as possible. Every death is regrettable.”

In his concluding remarks, Mr Drax noted: “With signs of unrest growing both here and in Europe, can I urge the Government to look at another way forward.”

I just think it's a bizarrely dangerous precedent we're going down - that Government now effectively believes it can halt death

Conservative Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) called for a peer review of the evidence the Government is receiving, also noting: “I am personally really concerned that people are losing faith in Government use of data and science.”

He added scientists are becoming increasingly sceptical over the use of lockdowns, adding: “I think anyone who thinks we’re all coming out of lockdown on December 2 is just living in a parallel universe.

“One can dream about it but frankly the reality is slight.”

Mr Seely said his parents died in the last decade of winter respiratory flu, adding: “Three years ago, 22,000 people died of winter flu.

“According to the logic of some people in this House, we effectively have to shut down our lives for six months of the year in case people die. I just think it’s a bizarrely dangerous precedent we’re going down – that Government now effectively believes it can halt death.

“Once upon a time you went to somebody’s funeral when they hit 85 or over and you talked about a life well led. They now die of Covid several years above the national average and politicians are saying it’s the greatest disaster facing humanity and must never happen again.

“I really understand the virulent nature of Covid and I understand the impact on the NHS – although I did rather think the NHS was there to protect us and not the other way round – and I think we need to get some semblance of balance.”

Conservative Chris Green (Bolton West) spoke of the “somewhat erratic nature” of the Government’s approach, explaining his constituency had faced all sorts of national and local restrictions.

None of us want this virus to let rip, all of us understand how devastating it has been, many of us have had bereavements as a consequence of it

He said: “I’m not sure there’s been sufficient reflection upon the impact, often devastating impact, on people’s lives and livelihoods and education, questions over civil liberties which haven’t really been looked into a great deal throughout the course of the pandemic.”

For the Government, Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt said she does not believe any MP who spoke in the debate wants to let “this virus rip”.

She said: “I do regret those accusations that have been made in the past about people who are sceptical of the Government’s approach.

“None of us want this virus to let rip, all of us understand how devastating it has been, many of us have had bereavements as a consequence of it.”

Ms Mordaunt added: “So why is the Government pursuing this strategy? Well, at the heart of it is the NHS.

“The aim is simple: to avoid hospitals buckling under the weight of Covid patients and also to prevent death.

“Bed space, staff shortages in certain parts of the country mean the system is already under pressure and the whole system capacity, we are told, including the additional Nightingale capacity, could be overwhelmed by Christmas if we do not take this course of action.”

Earlier in the Commons Conservative Adam Afriyie (Windsor) suggested the second lockdown will “prove fatal” to many businesses battling the “increasing dominance” of Amazon and other online retailers.

Labour also warned the Government “is making a very, very difficult situation even worse” because of a “lack of any plan”.

Treasury minister Steve Barclay defended the Covid-19 economic package – insisting it now totals more than £200 billion.

He also failed to confirm whether the furlough scheme will be made available to the devolved nations after December 2, if it is required.

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