Ben Wallace today dismissed growing calls from Tory MPs to speed up the nation’s exit from lockdown as he said it would be wrong to ‘throw away’ progress in ‘the final mile’.
The Defence Secretary said the country has ‘made incredible sacrifices over the last year’ and now is the time to ‘buckle down’.
The Government is facing a Conservative backbench revolt over Boris Johnson’s roadmap, with angry MPs arguing the approach is based on ‘dates, not data’.
Tory rebels have pointed to the fact that more than 26million people in the UK have now received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine as they said life should be able to ‘get back to normal more quickly’.
They said there is now ‘increasingly positive data on deaths and hospital admissions’ but despite this the Government ‘appears almost entirely focused on dates’ already set out by the Prime Minister.
Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said ‘reasonable people’ will now be questioning why Mr Johnson does not speed up the easing of restrictions.
Meanwhile, the CRG’s Steve Baker echoed a similar sentiment as he said ‘the time has come for this dark chapter in our history to come to an end’ amid a row over extending the Government’s draconian Covid powers.
Boris Johnson is under growing pressure from Tory MPs to speed up the nation’s exit from lockdown
Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said ‘reasonable people’ will now be questioning why Mr Johnson does not speed up the easing of restrictions
MPs are expected to vote on the PM’s roadmap later this week and they are also likely to be asked to vote on keeping in place the controversial Coronavirus Act.
The Act underpins Covid rules and MPs are fearful the Government will ask to keep powers until October, despite the fact the last step for unlocking in the PM’s exit strategy is set for June 21.
The lengthy extension has sparked fears of a possible reimposition of rules in the Autumn.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Harper said: ‘As Easter approaches, families would normally be making plans to visit and stay, and people could be forgiven for thinking that getting together would be possible to do safely.
‘However, the Government’s roadmap – which appears almost entirely focused on dates rather than the increasingly positive data on deaths and hospital admissions – means that such activity will involve breaking the law.
‘Reasonable people will wonder whether the Government has got this balance right. Staying with your family won’t just be illegal for Easter weekend, it will be unlawful until May 17 at the earliest – whatever the data say. The roadmap is ‘dates, not data’.’
Mr Harper, a former chief whip, also warned that keeping the provisions in the Coronavirus Act until October ‘will raise concerns that curbs will be reintroduced in the autumn.’
He added: ‘When this first started, protecting the NHS and saving lives was achieved by people staying at home.
‘It’s now achieved by getting vaccinated and we have seen dramatic falls in deaths and hospital admissions. We should be able to get back to normal more quickly if we are following the data, not dates.’
Meanwhile, lockdown critic Sir Desmond Swayne told the Observer: ‘The whole point of having a successful vaccine campaign is that we want to take advantage of it.
‘We mustn’t forget the huge economic costs involved with continuing with lockdown a day longer. I do feel that we’ve got an excess of caution and not enough sense of urgency about the damage.’
Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, added: ‘People are exhausted, they’re tired. They’re still frightened. The last thing we want to do is just ramp up that anxiety. We should be de-escalating it.’
Many Tory MPs are increasingly concerned at the toll the continued national lockdown is taking.
The Sunday Express reported that a group of five Cabinet members – Chancellor Rishi Sunak, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick – are the leading voices opposing any further delay in the lifting of restrictions.
Mr Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, questioned why tight restrictions are still in place.
‘With so many vulnerable people now vaccinated, people may ask why restrictions the Government is bringing in this coming week are tougher than they were last summer when we didn’t have a vaccine,’ he told the newspaper.
‘The detention powers in the Coronavirus Act are disproportionate, extreme and wholly unnecessary. Renewing them would not be reconcilable with the Prime Minister’s guarantee that we are on a ‘one-way road to freedom’ by June 21.’
He added: ‘The time has come for this dark chapter in our history to come to an end and for us to reclaim our freedoms once and for all.’