Boris Seeks to Renew ‘Emergency’ Coronavirus Powers

Parliament will vote on whether to renew the Coronavirus Act later this month, a year and a half after it was first introduced to grant ’emergency’ powers to the Government. A clause within the Act means that it will automatically lapse in March 2022. Ministers are keen to keep hold of their powers until then due in part to fears of ‘potential challenges’ this winter. The Financial Times has the story.

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, will face his first parliamentary battle of the autumn over the measure when the House of Commons returns from its summer recess next week. Ministers are preparing for a fight with anti-lockdown backbench Conservative MPs over the Coronavirus Act, which handed the Government sweeping emergency powers in March 2020.

The legislation includes lifting restrictions on public bodies, such as limits on school class sizes, and allows the police to force those suspected of having the virus into self-isolation. …

When parliament last voted on the act, five months ago, the then Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said he could not rule out a further extension but said his own preference was for it not to be renewed. 

But ministers will argue that emergency powers are still required for another six months, despite limited restrictions in place at the moment, in light of potential challenges ahead this winter.

Officials at the Department for Health and Social Care said the extension of the legislation was necessary because coronavirus cases across the U.K. were currently running high, hospitalisations were rising and a difficult flu season was expected. Ministers are also braced for a surge of cases when schools return to England in the next week.

One Government insider said the Government had no choice but to keep the legislation in place. “The Coronavirus Act is going to be one of the trickier bills to pass. We’re gearing up for a fight with our own MPs, who are going to be reluctant to support it.”

30 Tory MPs rebelled in March’s vote to renew the act and the rebels believe that the number will be higher this month. 

Mark Harper, the Conservative MP who Chairs the influential Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptics, said there was no need to renew the legislation which contained “the most draconian detention powers in modern British legal history”, citing the provisions for indefinite detention.

“Our vaccine roll-out has been a huge success. We have seen a dramatic and welcome fall in people suffering from serious disease and death from Covid as a result,” he said.

“We are going to have to learn to live with this virus, and retaining sweeping powers of detention in the Coronavirus Act is not consistent with this. What justification can there be for extending these measures?”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “The crisis point of the pandemic has passed,” says David Davis MP. “So it is now time to roll back the extensive powers unwisely handed over to the State.”

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