A prominent Tory backbencher has slammed the government’s introduction of local lockdowns across the UK as “devastating”, claiming they infringe on the public’s freedom and should be swapped for a “risk-based” approach.
Tory MP and former Brexit minister Steve Baker told the Conservative party conference today that local lockdowns “aren’t working”, while dwindling hopes for a vaccine before Christmas should prompt the government to “rethink” its current approach.
“It doesn’t look to me at the moment like [local] lockdowns are actually effective,” he said. “If that is the case, whatever are we doing taking away people’s freedoms and crushing their businesses?”
Baker added that the current ban on household mixing in virus hotpots across the country was having a”devastating” effect on people unable to visit family members self-isolating and in care homes.
At least 17m people in the UK are currently in or are facing some form of local lockdown restrictions in addition to blanket nationwide measures.
That means almost a quarter of people in England, a third of people in Scotland and two-thirds of people in Wales face fresh restrictions as the government scrambles to curb a spike in infections across the country.
Baker called on ministers to swap their current approach for a “risk-based system” which would see the government introduce more targeted restrictions including shielding for vulnerable people.
“I would like people to be able to make a choice based on sound information,” said the former minister. “You might remember that we were supposed to be flattening the curve, and now we’re suppressing our society until we get a vaccine. I do not want to live with this one moment longer than we absolutely must.”
‘Infringement on civil liberties’
Baker, who cofounded free-market think tank The Cobden Centre in 2010, joined a host of prominent Tory MPs calling on the government to soften current restriction measures.
Sir Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West and chair of the influential 1922 Committee, last month said local lockdown measures in Manchester were “a massive infringement of normal civil liberties”.
Brady warned the restrictions had caused “mental health effects, family break up… loss of jobs and business failure” in the region, urging the government to scrap the local lockdown “unless a real need for it can be demonstrated”.
Spike in cases
It comes after confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK surged more than 22,000 yesterday following revelations that a technical glitch had played down official figures in recent days.
Johnson said that some of the missing data “got truncated and it was lost”, but that everyone who tested positive has been contacted.
Yesterday’s tally took the UK’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases beyond the 500,000 mark for the first time, prompting MPs and industry figures to press for further restrictions to stem a rapid rise in cases across the country.
But business figures have warned that further lockdown measures — including fresh restrictions for the capital — could cripple the British economy, which has only just begun to recover from its worst recession on record.
The Prime Minister is understood to be hesitant to introduce a London-wide lockdown over fears it would hamper the nation’s hopes for a V-shaped economic recovery and cause wide-scale job losses.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) last month predicted that a second London lockdown would land an estimated £2bn hit on the UK economy.
Baker today said the future of many UK businesses hinged on government strategy ahead of the winter months.
“If it’s ‘suppress until [there’s] a vaccine’ and we’re waiting for a vaccine long after Christmas, then a lot of good firms who do great stuff will go to the wall,” he said. “There’s no escaping that.”