While England’s chief medical and scientific advisers warned on Monday of the need to urgently halt a possible exponential growth in deaths from COVID-19, Conservative lawmakers are calling for Parliament to have a greater say on CCP virus restrictions.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said in a televized briefing that the number of deaths from COVID-19 “will continue to rise, potentially on an exponential curve, that means doubling and doubling and doubling again, and you can quickly move from really quite small numbers to really very large numbers.”
“If we don’t do enough the virus will take off. … If we do not change course then we’re going to find ourselves in a very difficult problem,” he said.
There has been speculation that the UK will undergo another two-week lockdown or bring in additional measures, such as curfews, to try to slow the spread, with new cases estimated to be around 6,000 a day.
But just hours before Whitty’s briefing, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the backbench 1922 Committee of Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs), told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program that the government has “got into the habit of ruling by decree.”
The government has enacted CCP virus restrictions thus far using what Brady describes as “really quite extreme emergency powers” under the Coronavirus Act created six months ago, which is due for review by Parliament on Sept. 30.
“If it wasn’t for my colleague David Davis proposing an amendment right at the start of this, we would not be having a vote on the extension of the [Coronavirus Act] powers for two years down the line,” Brady said.
He has called for more debates and votes in Parliament before any new CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus restrictions are put in place, and has introduced an amendment to the Coronavirus Act to ensure this.
Debate and Clarification
While acknowledging that the pandemic was a “very important, very serious situation,” Brady said that measures to curb it were being put in place “without usual debate and discussion and the votes in Parliament that we would expect on any other matter.”
When asked if the government nevertheless needed to be able to act quickly amid the pandemic, Brady said that “governments find it entirely possible to put things to Parliament very quickly when it’s convenient for them to do so.”
It would have been “entirely possible” for example for a day of general debates in Parliament to be “swept aside” for a full day’s debate and vote on the recently introduced “rule of six” in advance of its imposition across England, Brady said.
Such a debate would have clarified why children were included in the “rule of six” restriction in England while children in Scotland were not, he said.
The debate would also have covered the “really, really, vital” issue of what the criteria would be for bringing the restrictions to an end.
Brady said he was confident that Parliament would have supported the initial lockdown six months ago but that views were “starting to move” based on subsequent scrutiny of data and comparisons with other countries.
“I’ve no doubt at all had there been a vote six months ago … the government would have had the overwhelming backing of the House of Commons,” he said.
Brady said, however, that “people, intelligent people, across the country are taking a very, very, close interest in the data, in the facts … in international comparisons.”
He cited Sweden, which did not have a mandated lockdown, as a telling comparison for UK people.
“You can see that Sweden today is in a better place than the UK,” he said.
Brady raised concerns about UK civil liberties around having restrictions imposed without prior parliamentary debate taking place.
“The British people aren’t used to being treated as children. We expect in this country to have a parliamentary democracy where our elected representatives, on our behalf, can require proper answers to these things from government and not just have things imposed on them.”
Other Conservative MPs have also expressed concern about the way measures have been imposed without parliamentary scrutiny.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, also interviewed on Monday by Radio 4’s Today program, was asked to respond to Brady’s concerns around government accountability and civil liberties.
He replied that the government is obliged to make hard decisions and implement them very quickly, but are still held accountable for them.
“We do have to go back to Parliament all of the time, and I stand at the dispatch box quite a lot having to be held to account for these decisions—that’s absolutely right,” he said. “These are exceptional times requiring exceptional circumstances.”
Shapps said civil liberties are in the balance if the government doesn’t act quickly, and not doing so leads to a situation like in the first lockdown “when it was actually illegal to be outside your house for anything other than four reasons.”
“That’s what happens to civil liberties,” he said
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the restrictions would be different from last time. The government wants to crack down on socializing but have schools and many workplaces stay open.
“If we do have to take action, it will be different to last time and we’ve learned a huge amount about how to tackle the virus,” he told ITV.
“Schools aren’t where a lot of the transmission happens, it’s more about people socializing,” he said.
The UK already has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe, standing at 41,777.
The chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland recommended all four nations move up to COVID-19 alert “Level 4″—an epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to speak on Tuesday.
Reuters contributed to this report