MPs have voted to extend emergency coronavirus powers for another six months by 484 to 76 against. This means the government has retained wide-ranging powers including those given to police and immigration officials when dealing with people suspected of carrying Covid. In the debate ahead of the vote, the Health Secretary insisted that the powers will stay in place ‘only as long as necessary’.
However, when pressed, Matt Hancock would not rule out MPs being asked to renew them again in six months’ time. The fact that there is little substantial opposition to the plans – 35 Tory MPs and the Liberal Democrats voted against – means the government isn’t under much pressure to offer concessions. Labour under Keir Starmer backed the plans. As James noted in last week’s Spectator cover piece, the Labour party’s support on Covid measures means the government is largely unopposed.
But it was clear from the debate that discontent is growing in the Tory party over the government’s approach. There were several impassioned speeches – from MPs such as Desmond Swayne and Charles Walker – warning of a power grab with no end in sight. There is little trust among this group that the government really will end all restrictions and give back all these powers anytime soon.
One of the most interesting contributions came from former minister Steve Brine. He made the point that the real action from here on in is in the various government reviews – on social distancing, immunity certificates, foreign travel and the workplace. It is the outcome of these reviews that will decide what ‘freedom’ actually looks like on June 21. With reported proposals for vaccine passports for pints already raising concern among MPs, it’s these debates that will now dominate the coming months. However, as long as Labour continue to back the government’s plans, there are limits to how much of an impact Tory MPs will have.