steve baker

How Outraged Should We Be By Yesterday’s Renewal of the Coronavirus Act Without a Parliamentary Vote?

There was plenty of outrage on Twitter yesterday from lockdown sceptics about the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020 without the House of Commons being given an opportunity to vote on it. For instance, Julia Hartley-Brewer tweeted: “What kind of democracy do we live in when a six month extension to emergency powers to control every aspect of our lives can just be nodded through without any vote?”

But I’m a little more sanguine about this than others and have written a comment piece for Mail+ explaining why. Here is an extract:

Yes, the Act, as originally passed in March 2020, is an illiberal measure that grants the Government all sorts of sweeping powers. For instance, the ability to close businesses and schools, and restrict social gatherings.

But there are two reasons why its renewal should not set off alarm bells.

First, all the most draconian powers granted to the Government under the Act have been removed. The remaining clauses give ministers powers they would need to use in the event of another lockdown but which, by themselves, don’t enable them to impose one, such as allowing them to financially support businesses affected by COVID-19 and to stop landlords evicting tenants for unpaid rents.

However, the removal of these sweeping powers should not be a cause of comfort – which brings me to the second reason.

The last three times the Government imposed a lockdown, it didn’t need to rely on any of the authoritarian clauses in the Act. That’s because it has all the powers it needs under the Public Health Act 1984 and, unlike the Coronavirus Act, that piece of legislation doesn’t have to be renewed every six months.

That’s why Steve Baker, Conservative MP for Wycombe and Deputy Leader of the Covid Recovery Group, abstained in yesterday’s vote but didn’t call for a division of the House. He rightly understood that the renewal of the Act was small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.

I go on to say that for opponents of further lockdowns the focus should be on reforming the Public Health Act, not repealing the Coronavirus Act.

If we’re going to make it harder for the Government to lock us down again without carrying out a cost-benefit analysis – which it didn’t bother with on the previous three occasions – the critical thing is to reform the Public Health Act. That is what the Covid Recovery Group is campaigning for.

Of course, reforming the act wouldn’t prevent the Government from imprisoning us in our homes again. But it would mean that in order to do so, in the absence of any kind of risk assessment, it might have to pass another act of Parliament. That would at least give MPs and peers the opportunity to scrutinise and debate the merits of another lockdown.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: For those unconvinced by this argument, you can sign a petition urging the Government to repeal the Coronavirus Act here.

“Outrageous Proposal” to Introduce Vaccine Passports Could Split Tories “Irretrievably”, Warns Steve Baker

Introducing vaccine passports wouldn’t just create a two-tier society but would risk splitting the Conservative Party “irretrievably”, says the Conservative MP Steve Baker, warning the Prime Minister against proceeding with this “outrageous proposal”. Reports suggest that upwards of 42 Tories could vote against the Government’s plans in Parliament, but the deciding vote will likely lie with Labour. The Sun has the story.

Mr. Baker, Deputy Chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tories, told the Sun: “It is an outrageous proposal, and one that doesn’t seem likely to do any good.

“Who are they now trying to coerce? Whose education are they now trying to deny?

“I believe the Government is in terrible danger of splitting the Tory Party irretrievably – after all we have been through with Brexit.”

Tory MP Mark Harper said Number 10 is making vaccines compulsory through the back door by threatening to deny a university education to those who refuse.

He warned: “Persuasion is much better than coercion.” …

Professor Robert West, a behavioural scientist who advises the Government on Covid policy, warned the plan could spectacularly backfire.

He said: “Using a sort of stick approach as opposed to a carrot and stick approach, I think is a mistake.

“By and large, if we want to get people to do things, it’s far better to get them on board with the idea of doing it rather than getting them to do it because they feel they have to.

“When you do that you start to create resentment.” …

The PM’s spokesman said: “We are still looking at the scope for vaccination certification.”

While the Tory Party are at war over vaccine passports, Labour’s stance was mired in chaos and confusion.

Labour had suggested they could join Tory rebels to inflict a humiliating defeat on vaccine passports in the Commons when a vote on it is held in September.

But muddled Sir Keir Starmer today hinted he could back the plan. He told LBC: “What I don’t want to see, just to be very clear about this, is I don’t want to see vaccine passports used on an everyday basis for access to critical things like health, dentistry, food, etc.

“So, for sporting events, I’ll look at what the Government puts on the table.

“I want to be pragmatic because we all want all business sectors and sporting sectors to return as quickly as possible.

But not for everyday use.”

He also said vaccine passports must include the option to have a negative test instead.

Worth reading in full.

Sajid Javid Has “Worsened” Prospect of All Freedoms Being Returned on July 19th, Says Steve Baker

Allies of Sajid Javid are keen to point out that he will be much less “nanny state-ish” as Health Secretary than Matt Hancock has been over the past 15 months. But Javid failed his first test by ruling out unlocking the nation on July 5th and he is now accused of being unclear about whether all restrictions will be removed when ‘Freedom Day’ finally arrives.

Conservative MP Steve Baker has told Sky News that Javid has actually “worsened” the prospect of all restrictions being lifted on July 19th by being ambiguous over whether or not guidelines on social distancing and testing will end at this time.

Baker’s comments on the likelihood of Test and Trace continuing to play a large role after July 19th are particularly fitting, given that the Government has just awarded Serco and Mitie new testing contracts – worth up to £687 million collectively – to support this system. These contracts could run for up to 18 months.

The Deputy Chair of the Covid Recovery Group says that maintaining some restrictions after Step Four of the lockdown “roadmap” would risk creating a “hollow and haunted society”. Sky News has more.

Asked by Sky’s Deputy Political Editor Sam Coates whether he welcomed the fact Mr Javid described July 19th as “irreversible”, Mr Baker said the claim did not go far enough.

He said: “I am very pleased he doubled down on it, but I would just observe he has doubled down on the existing Government line to take. In fact, in a sense, he has worsened the position.

“The impression which Matt [Hancock] was happy to create in the Commons was that once we got to Step Four there would not be regulations – freedom from regulations – now that’s difficult to reconcile with what’s now going on with events with Covid certification being trialled, with social distancing and test and trace – what actually is the world going to look like when we get our freedom back?”

Mr Baker said guidance on face masks and the one-metre rule should all be removed next month to ensure businesses do not feel pressured to follow them by default…

“I’m very conscious that even voluntary measures will be interpreted by the Health and Safety Executive and businesses and could effectively be compulsory. So until the Government stops recommending these things, too many businesses will become unviable.”

Worth reading in full.

Keeping Social Distancing Beyond June Would Be “Morally Wrong”, Says Steve Baker

Conservative backbencher Steve Baker has written in the Sun that it would be morally wrong for anti-Covid measures such as social distancing to stay in place past June 21st. Mr Baker also says that Britain should give start giving vaccines to poorer countries since most vulnerable people in Britain are already fully vaccinated.

As all Conservatives know, we won’t be able to level up, contain our debts, grow our way to recovery or support our public services if we continue to ask people and businesses to operate under restrictions.

In early April 2020, Her Majesty invited us to look forward to “better days” when “we will meet again”. So it’s great news the Government is set to declare that we can and should once again hug our nearest and dearest from next week. Now we must look ahead to June 21st as the date by which freedom truly means freedom.

Mr Baker should ask here why the Government has been able to tell us not to cuddle our “nearest and dearest” at any point over the past year anyway.

The data is so good, and the doomsayers so wrong, that it cannot possibly be rational or morally right for us to have to socially distance from each other in any context or setting in the U.K. beyond June 21st. Being social is key to being well so by June 21st at the latest, Britain must meet again, must be reunited in every sense, and we must start healing the broken bonds of the last year with social contact and normal human interaction. 

The Queen, in her enduring wisdom, also said that we must “join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal”. There can be no doubt that once we have vaccinated those vulnerable to Covid in the U.K., the right thing is for Britain proudly to lead the world in delivering surplus vaccines to developing countries.  

Brexit gives us the freedom to determine our own future, but it also gives us a chance to lead in the world as we always have done, to ensure that admirable British values are exported across the globe.

Just as we should not lock ourselves down needlessly at home once we have vaccinated the vulnerable, nor should we be hoarding vaccines when they can be doing so much more good overseas in fighting a virus that is most harmful to older people and those with underlying health conditions. There can be no greater service to the world’s citizens in 2021 than protecting those vulnerable to Covid, wherever they may be.  

As we start this new chapter in our history – outside the EU and having vaccinated the vulnerable against Covid – it’s time to unleash this country’s true potential by making the most of the benefits of the brilliant NHS vaccination rollout, to lift these appalling restrictions safely and proportionately in line with the harm Covid is capable of causing, and by finally – as the Prime Minister said in February – reclaiming our lives once and for all.

Worth reading in full.