An ex-Tory minister has described the Coronavirus Act as “excessive and disproportionate”, and it said“should now go”.
Deputy Chairman of the Covid Recovery Group Steve Baker issued his warning ahead of a vote this week on extending emergency laws for another six months.
Mr Baker said: “The Government really does need to start taking advantage of their own great success on the vaccination programme.”
Mr Baker said he expects to vote “squarely against” the Coronavirus Act and said it is sensible for the Government to take “proportionate” measures, adding: “They really should now start looking at dramatically reducing the range of powers that they have.”
He said ministers should also avoid putting police in an “invidious” position, having earlier noted “we politicians have got to take the blame” for how officers have been enforcing powers – despite “mistakes” such as using drones to pursue people.
But Mr Baker told Sky News that that lockdown roadmap would likely be agreed and Covid powers will be extended this week regardless of Tory rebellion because Labour and the SNP will “vote for any old authoritarianism these days”.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace defended the Government’s plans to extend coronavirus lockdown powers in England.
Mr Wallace told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “The final mile is the most important thing for us all, make sure we buckle down, get through the different stages the Prime Minister set out.
“At each stage we will be taking assessments from the science, from where we are in the pandemic, and take the steps required.
“It is not a one-way street. Just because we are seeking to extend the powers doesn’t mean we are deaf to how facts change on the ground.”
It comes after prominent MP Mark Harper has fuelled expectations of a Tory revolt on extending the country’s emergency coronavirus laws by calling for a “roadmap to freedom that is based on data, not dates”.
Boris Johnson faces a backbench rebellion this week as MPs vote on prolonging the laws until October, Mr Harper said such a move would contradict the Prime Minister’s previous pledges on the restoration of the country’s freedoms.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Harper – chairman of the informal Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs – noted Mr Johnson had said when announcing his roadmap out of lockdown that it would “guide us cautiously but irreversibly towards reclaiming our freedoms” by June 21.
“Retaining most temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act until October is not consistent with this pledge and will raise concerns that curbs will be reintroduced in the autumn,” Mr Harper wrote.
Mr Harper also challenged the Government’s thinking on its roadmap to recovery, saying “reasonable people” would wonder if the Government had struck the right balance in continuing present guidelines curbing family gatherings through Easter.
The Forest of Dean MP said given the “exemplary” success of Britain’s vaccination rollout, the Government’s roadmap appeared “almost entirely focused on dates rather than the increasingly positive data on deaths and hospital admissions”.
“Staying with your family won’t just be illegal for Easter weekend, it will be unlawful until May 17 at the earliest – whatever the data say. The roadmap is ‘dates, not data’,” Mr Harper wrote.
The 15-year MP called on the Government to show such restrictions were still “proportionate, reasonable and grounded in evidence”, and that ministers should also ensure they were consistently policed.
Questioning the “draconian” detention powers in the Act in particular, Mr Harper said the police response in the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard last weekend had been partly the result of “poorly drafted” emergency pandemic laws, which were “rushed through Parliament with little scrutiny”.
Meanwhile, the Express said disquiet in Tory ranks had been steadily growing “over the toll the lockdown is taking”.
It said a group of five Cabinet members – Chancellor Rishi Sunak, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick – were understood to be the leading voices opposing any further delay in the lifting of restrictions.