Tory MPs have vowed to carry a pint of milk around as a symbol of protest against draconian coronavirus laws – amid warnings Boris Johnson will face demands to recall Parliament if he announces crunch decisions on lockdown during the Easter recess.
In a slightly surreal act of defiance, Sir Charles Walker has insisted he will use the milk as a ‘reminder’ of the need to defend ‘freedom’ – although he has not been entirely clear why he has chosen that symbol, saying people should not ‘read to deeply’ into it.
The Commons broke up for nearly three weeks last night after the government won a vote on extending Covid laws until September – despite 35 Conservative MPs rebelling to oppose the step.
Mr Johnson is also facing a mounting backlash over proposals for ‘Covid passports’, which could mean people have to show they have been vaccinated or tested negative recently in order to go to the pub or a restaurant.
But senior MPs have voiced concern after it emerged that the PM is planning to make a series of key moves while the Commons is out of action.
Mr Johnson is expected to host a press conference from the new £2.6million Downing Street briefing room on Monday, when the stay at home order will be formally lifted.
From that point the Rule of Six will return, and two separate households will be able to mix outdoors.
Mr Johnson is also expected to address the nation again from Downing Street on April 5 so he can give a week’s notice before the measures in the roadmap take effect.
Announcements on ‘vaccine passports’ and whether foreign holidays will be allowed this summer are also on the cards before the Commons returns from its break.
Although MPs can be recalled from recess this typically only happens when urgent issues need to be considered – such as the Brexit deal being struck over Christmas.
However, one senior MP told MailOnline that Tories will not tolerate Mr Johnson using the recess to dodge scrutiny. ‘If he goes overboard they will be shouting for a recall,’ they said. In a reference to the anti-lockdown chair of the 1922 committee they added: ‘Sir Graham Brady will not be happy.’
In a slightly surreal act of defiance, Sir Charles Walker has insisted he will use the milk as a ‘reminder’ of the need to defend ‘freedom’ – although he added that people should not ‘read to deeply into’ why he had chosen that symbol
Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to a nursery yesterday) faced wrath of his own lockdown-sceptic backbenchers over the extension of lockdown laws until the autumn
Mr Hancock told the restive chamber yesterday that he ‘cannot answer’ whether the Coronavirus Act will be retired in six months or rolled on even longer
Who were the 35 Tory rebels against extending Covid laws?
The extension of measures in the Act was approved by 484 to 76, majority 408.
The division list showed 305 Conservative MPs and 176 Labour MPs were among those to support it.
A total of 10 Liberal Democrats voted against the extension, with former minister Alistair Carmichael also acting as a teller.
Seven DUP MPs, Alliance MP Stephen Farry (North Down), Green Party MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – currently sitting as an independent – also opposed the measures.
These are the 35 Tory MPs who voted against extending the Coronavirus Act:
Adam Afriyie, Steve Baker, Harriett Baldwin, Bob Blackman, Peter Bone, Sir Graham Brady, Sir Christopher Chope, Sir Geoffrey Clifton Brown, Philip Davies, David Davis, Jonathan Djanogly, Richard Drax, Mark Francois, Marcus Fysh, Mark Harper, Philip Hollobone, David Jones, Pauline Latham, Jonathan Lord, Tim Loughton, Craig Mackinlay, Karl McCartney, Stephen McPartland, Esther McVey, Anne Marie Morris, John Redwood, Andrew Rosindell, Henry Smith, Julian Sturdy, Sir Desmond Swayne, Sir Robert Syms, Craig Tracey, Sir Charles Walker, David Warburton, William Wragg
These are the 20 Tory MPs who abstained on the vote:
Sir Peter Bottomley, Andrew Bowie, Andrew Bridgen, Steve Brine, Jackie Doyle Price, David Duguid, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Richard Fuller, Nusrat Ghani, Dame Cheryl Gillan, Chris Grayling, Alister Jack, John Lamont, Julian Lewis, Theresa May, Andrew Mitchell, David Mundell, Sir Robert Neill, Douglas Ross, Bob Seely
Sir Charles toured broadcast studios with his milk last night after unveiling the protest during a speech to the Commons.
He told Channel 4 News: ‘I’ve got it here because I project this kind of symbolism in it.’
He said there was a ban on protests that will last until the ‘stay at home’ order is lifted in England on March 29, but even after that it could be reimposed by ministers.
‘I want to protest about the price of milk,’ Sir Charles said. ‘People can protest about what they like.’
Last night the Commons voted 484 to 76, a majority of 408, in favour of keeping the powers in place into the autumn, despite Matt Hancock admitting he cannot rule out trying to renew them again.
Kicking off the debate in the Commons the Health Secretary was unable to guarantee it was the last time MPs would be asked to roll-over the powers, which are largely unprecedented in peace time.
Some 35 Conservative MPs voted against the renewal of the Coronavirus Act while a further 20 chose to abstain. Some 21 Labour MPs also voted against.
Those who opted to vote against include former cabinet ministers David Davis and Esther McVey.
The Tory rebels had questioned why the laws needed to be kept in place for so long when lockdown is due to end in June.
The rebellion failed after the vast majority of Labour MPs sided with the Government to support the law – which can only be extended for six months at a time.
Mr Hancock told the restive chamber he ‘cannot answer’ whether the Coronavirus Act will be retired in six months or rolled on, as he opened the debate this afternoon.
‘There are parts of this Act that have allowed us to do good things that everybody would like to see like that, and so when we do come to retire this Act, which we must within one year and preferably within six months, we will need to make sure that we can continue to do that sort of thing and make sure that nurses can be enrolled as easily as possible into the NHS,’ he said.
‘But I cannot answer whether we will be retiring it in six months. My preference would be yes, but given the last year, I think a prediction would be hasty.’
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, said he voted against the extension of emergency powers, adding: ‘A year on we now risk normalising extreme policy responses and an attitude that our fundamental liberties exist for authorities to either grant or withhold.’
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative MP for Chingford & Woodford Green, said he did not support the extension – but he did not vote against the Government.
He told LBC he thought six months was ‘excessive’ and said the Government has ‘not yet produced a single reason why they need to get to October’.
Conservative MP for New Forest West, Desmond Swayne, criticised the government for seeking ‘to retain powers to control aspects of our lives and implement a punishment regime for disobedience’.
The Tory MP for South Thanet, Craig Mackinlay, said he thinks the six month extension went beyond the ‘already excessively extended’ roadmap to June 21 2021.
John Redwoord tweeted today: ‘Parliament can and should relax more of the restrictions and save more livelihoods. The vaccine success gives us the opening to restore more jobs and businesses.’
MP for Stevenage Stephen McPartland called it ‘unnecessary and disproportionate’.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn voted against maintaining the Coronavirus Act. He said: ‘The Tories can’t be trusted with our civil liberties, and are still not taking the action needed for public health, jobs and livelihoods.’
Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, also voted against the act’s renewal, saying: ‘We need an approach that protects everyone, leaving no-one behind and safeguarding our liberties.
‘None of us are safe until we are all safe.’
CRG leader Mark Harper, who believes plans to ease the lockdown ‘could safely go more quickly’, said the provisions in the Coronavirus Act should be expired ‘at the earliest possible opportunity’
Charles Walker’s ‘milk’ speech to the Commons
Sir Charles Walker, who voted against the extension of the coronavirus laws, said that in the remaining days of lockdown he would allow himself ‘an act of defiance’.
‘I am going to protest about the price of milk,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure whether I think the price is too high or the price is too low, I shall come to that decision later.
‘But for the next few days I am going to walk around London with a pint of milk on my person because that pint will represent my protest.
Reform Party leader Richard Tice was joined by Laurence Fox on Parliament Square, both clutching pints of whole milk
‘And there may be others who will choose to walk around London with a pint of milk on their person as well.
‘Perhaps as we walk past each other in the street out eyes might meet we might even stop for a chat but I was thinking to myself… what will their pint of milk represent? What will their protest be?
‘Perhaps they will be protesting the roaring back of a mental health demon brought on by lockdown. Perhaps they will be protesting a renewed battle with anorexia, with depression, with anxiety, with addiction.
‘Perhaps with their pint of milk they will be protesting the lack of agency in their life, not being able to make a meaningful decision, maybe a loss of career or job or business. maybe they will be protesting this country’s slide into authoritarianism.’
Sir Charles added that ‘the act of protest is a freedom, not a right, and unless you cherish freedoms every day, they end being taken away from you.’
Reform Party leader Richard Tice joined Laurence Fox on Parliament Square yesterday, both clutching pints of whole milk.
Mr Fox replied to a photo of the pair, posted on Twitter, saying: ‘The crowds of thousands are just out of shot!’
He added two laughing face emojis.
Labour MP for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, said she had concerns over the ‘disproportionate and draconian’ extension.
It came as the latest figures showed that Covid cases rose by 1.5 per cent to 6,397, but deaths fell by 33 per cent to 63, week-on-week. NHS England Chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the health service’s Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response (EPRR) coronavirus alert level should be reduced from four to three due to ‘reduced acute pressures on the health service’.
Mr Hancock’s admission prompted a furious response from Tory backbenchers. Theatrical Broxbourne MP Sir Charles Walker told the Commons: ‘As sure as eggs are eggs, we will be back here in six months at the end of September being asked to renew this legislation again. It is inevitable and anyone who thinks it’s not inevitable is deluding themselves.’
The vote came after Mr Johnson had earlier defended the pace of lockdown easing in the face of the rebellion.
On a visit to a school in Greenford, north west London, this morning he said: ‘The libertarian in me is also trying to protect people’s fundamental right to life and their ability to live their lives normally and the only way really to restore that for everybody is for us to beat the disease, and the best path to freedom is down the cautious but irreversible road map that we’ve set out – that’s what the freedom-lover wants,’ he said.
But Covid Recovery Group leader Mark Harper, who believes plans to ease the lockdown ‘could safely go more quickly’, said the provisions in the Coronavirus Act should be expired ‘at the earliest possible opportunity’.
‘The controversial parts, the police powers to detain potentially infectious persons which have (been) used unlawfully on a number of occasions … those are intended to be long-term powers – and he has also just suggested that these provisions might be rolled forward a further six months,’ he said.
‘That is why so many of us are worried. These are extraordinary provisions, not for normal times, and they should be expired at the earliest possible opportunity.’
Senior Conservative Sir Graham Brady urged MPs to vote against the renewal of the coronavirus regulations and to ‘trust the British people and return their rights to them’.
Sir Graham, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, told the Commons: ‘The danger in what is being proposed today is that we risk normalising an extreme policy response.’
He continued: ‘Does the Government have the right to tell people whether they can see their children or their grandchildren, whether they can start a relationship with someone? My answer is an emphatic no.
‘But even those who are less certain should reflect on whether this extreme control over people’s right to family life, people’s intimate relationships, the freedom of association, whether the Government can do these things briefly in an emergency or for over a year.’
Sir Graham added: ‘The danger is the Government starts to believe that these fundamental civil liberties belong to ministers to grant to us or withhold.
‘They do not, they belong as of right to British citizens. It is this habit of control that leads to coercive rules that have no sense in them.’
Conservative former Cabinet minister Jeremy Wright said step three and step four of the Government’s road map should be merged, with ‘almost all’ restrictions lifted by May.
He told the Commons: ‘Now I do not think that we should remove all restrictions in the next 21 days and I will vote accordingly, but I do think that we should combine steps three and four of the Government’s road map and remove almost all restrictions in May.
‘An entirely precautionary approach is simply not feasible here. We know Covid will be with us for some time, perhaps indefinitely, and we cannot respond to that with indefinite restrictions any more than we would or do in response to the risk of other diseases.
‘So although I support much of what the Government has done and is doing in response to the pandemic, I cannot support the continuation of damaging restrictions any longer than I consider they are necessary, which I am afraid is less than the Government propose in these regulations.’
‘Draconian police powers under Schedule 21, which have a 100 per cent unlawful prosecution record, must be considered ‘redundant’ to say the very least.
‘I am seeking to table an amendment to the motion tomorrow asking ministers to suspend those powers.
‘I now hope the Government can support it.’
Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne warned that the renewal of emergency coronavirus powers could lead to ‘total social control’.
The New Forest West MP told the Commons: ‘Now those of us who can spot the trajectory will have seen yesterday that after months of denial, now indeed it will be the case that you will have to provide your vaccination bona fides when you go to the pub.
‘And those people who are teetotal imagining that they might be spared that intrusion and inconvenience can dream on, because undoubtedly this will be extended to restaurants, theatres, sporting venues and so proceeding to total social control.
‘Did it ever occur to ministers that they might actually incentivise vaccinations? Carrot, not stick. Undoubtedly it didn’t, because they can’t kick the habit, they are wedded to the stick.
‘So let there be no wringing of hands by members of Parliament who vote for oppressive legislation and then wail with indignation when the police actually enforce it.
‘So when families are fined thousands of pounds for staying over together at Easter we will know that it was because this House willed it so.
‘So those people, those honourable members wishing for these measures to pass tonight should reflect clearly on exactly what it is they wish for.’
Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) expressed concerns that the Government is ‘moving the goalposts’ when it comes to lifting restrictions.
Ms Latham told the Commons: ‘There have been some remarkable successes in this pandemic but there have been some errors and my view is that we have been moving the goalposts. I think they started at Wembley and they are now nearly at Derby County – and I am extremely worried that if we are not careful, they’ll be up in Scotland.’
Fellow Conservative Chris Green (Bolton West) added: ‘I just wonder whether the European Football Championships which will be held later this year, and the Prime Minister’s offer to hold it in the United Kingdom, will actually be used in a sense as a showcase of the Covid certification certificates to show how effective they can be.
‘And is this the reason that schedule 22 has been maintained – for that control of people in those sort of events? And will it then be restricted just to those events or could it possibly be widened out further – pubs of course, restaurants, but could it be including public transport, places of work or places of education.
‘We have to have these concerns, I am not sure this debate has yet been had and I am not sure these concerns have been decisively ruled out.’
Government data up to March 23 shows 28,653,523 people have received a first vaccine dose, a rise of 325,650 on the previous day.
A further 98 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the total by that measure to 126,382.
As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 5,605 lab-confirmed cases in the UK, bringing the total to 4,312,908.
Sir Jeremy Farrar said he believes it is likely that the ban on international travel will need to continue.
The Wellcome Trust director said: ‘I think it will, until we can see progress in Europe with the epidemic coming down and vaccination rates going up in Europe.’
Asked about further testing of people coming in, he said lateral flow tests ‘don’t pick up every case but they do pick up the cases that are more infectious, and that is a very, very important public health intervention’.
On the issue of vaccine certificates and passports, he said he thinks they could cross the line ‘of individual freedoms and public health’, adding that ‘public health works when there is trust and when people want to do things that are their interests, and in the interests of their community, their families and their society’.
Mr Hancock said this afternoon that the Government’s goal ‘is to be cautious yet irreversible’.
He told the Commons: ‘I must tell the House that whilst I am still by nature an optimist, there remain courses for caution.
‘Cases are rising in some areas and they are rising among those under 18. There are early signs of cases flattening among the working age population too.
‘I am delighted that uptake of the vaccine is now 95 per cent amongst over-60s and that protection against dying from the vaccine is around 85 per cent. Both of these figures, 95 per cent uptake and 85 per cent protection, both of these are higher than we could have hoped for.
‘But while we are confident that we have broken the link between the number of cases and the hospitalisations and deaths that previously inevitably followed, no vaccine is perfect and take-up isn’t 100 per cent.
‘So that link while broken is not yet severed. New variants also remain a risk because we don’t yet know with confidence the impact of the vaccine against the new variants.’