When Boris Johnson rolled back the legal restrictions over summer as Britain emerged from the first lockdown, he was clear that enough was enough:
‘Neither the police themselves, nor the public that they serve, want virtually every aspect of our behaviour to be the subject of the criminal law…After a long period of asking…the British public, to follow very strict and complex rules to bring coronavirus under control…we will be asking [people] to follow guidance on limiting their social contact, rather than forcing them to do so through legislation’.
Alas (as Boris Johnson keeps saying), trust in people doing the right thing voluntarily, rather than under legal obligation, turned out to be short-lived.
Pressure from enforcement agencies played a part. The rule of six? When it was introduced in September, the Home Office said it ‘simplifies and strengthens the rules on social gatherings, making them easier to understand and easier for the police to enforce’. The 10pm hospitality sector legal curfew? ‘To help police enforce this rule, I’m afraid that means, alas, closing and not just calling for last orders, because simplicity is paramount,’ Boris Johnson told MPs.
Full legislative behavioural control has returned with Lockdown 3. The law is very complex – the mere 12 pages of regulations for the English Lockdown 1 have been superseded by 120 pages of the (thrice amended) Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020. Intricacy more appropriate to the Dungeons and Dragons’ rulebook has not stopped an accompanying barrage of guidance, ministerial statements, spokespersons’ clarifications, police pronouncements, public information posters and pop-ups.
In several respects, Lockdown 3 is less restrictive than Lockdown 1. The concept of linked households (support and childcare bubbles) makes welcome allowances for single people and grandparents. Exercise outdoors with a single member of another household is now permitted.