Influential backbench leader Sir Graham Brady has said that lockdown measures could be “removing hope” from Britons, criticising “pointless restrictions” that ban people from sitting on a park bench or taking more than one walk a day.
Sir Graham, chairman of the 1922 Committee of all backbench Tory MPs, warned that the government and ministers need to recognise that “lockdown carries its own costs”.
“Not just in terms of livelihoods destroyed and people who might lose their homes through unemployment, but also the health consequences and the mental health consequences — the danger that we’re removing hope and aspiration for young people,” Brady told The Telegraph‘s Planet Normal podcast on Thursday.
In the months following the first lockdown, media has reported on what one healthcare professional warned was an impending mental health crisis, with an increasing number of people feeling suicidal or experiencing depression or anxiety.
One of the most powerful MPs not in government, Sir Graham, a vocal sceptic of the Johnson administration’s lockdown policy, added that when he challenged ministers on why it is against the law to sit on your own on a bench or go for two walks in one day, “the answer is: ‘Well, if we allow people a little bit of freedom, this way or that way, they might expect freedom in other ways, too.'”
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Earlier this week, Home Secretary Priti Patel revealed that since the first lockdown was imposed at the end of March 2020, nearly 45,000 fines for alleged breaches of covid laws have been handed out across the UK, the disclosure coming amidst reports of heavy-handed policing of Britons sitting on benches, attending terror attack memorials, or going for walks.
“That approach of infantilising people, and refusing to accept people can make some rational, commonsense judgements for themselves, discredits the objectives that the government is working with,” Sir Graham said, criticising the “pointless restrictions” and “nonsensical interventions” which “should be swept away”.
The senior Tory also expressed surprise at “how readily” people and MPs “fell into the habit of just letting government govern by decree. All of these measures put in place using emergency powers. Technically, they could be voted on after the event. But it became both an unfortunate habit for government to do that without parliamentary scrutiny and an unfortunate habit for parliament just letting it happen.”
On the first lockdown, he said: “I think many of us [MPs] were prepared to nod through those emergency powers partly because we were being told that the aim was to have a three-week lockdown that would prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, as a very short-term measure, with a review after three weeks. It didn’t seem that worrying. Of course, the practice was that those three weeks to review came and went, and three weeks turned into three months with very little challenge.”
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“I continue to worry that lockdown is too blunt an instrument, that it causes as much harm as it solves,” the 1922 Committee chairman said, adding that if the mid-February target of vaccinating the top four most vulnerable categories of people is met, “then that surely must be the point where it should be possible to start releasing these restrictions again”.
On January 4th, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a third lockdown, which was later passed in the House of Commons as a law with an expiry of March 31st, 2021. The prime minister and other ministers have refused to give a timescale of when restrictions could be lifted, with Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock saying on Wednesday that it was “impossible to know” when life can start to get back to normal.