POLITICS
06/01/2021 19:10 GMT | Updated 06/01/2021 19:13 GMT

MPs Back Latest Coronavirus Lockdown In Commons Vote

But Tory backbenchers demanded at least one more vote on the "extreme" measures next month.

MPs have overwhelmingly backed the latest coronavirus lockdown in a Commons vote.

They voted 524 to 16, majority 508, in favour of the lockdown announced by Boris Johnson on Monday.

Most Tory lockdown sceptics supported the measures, stressing that the rapid spread of the new Covid variant left them with little choice.

But at the emergency Commons sitting, several pressured the government to set out the criteria for exiting the lockdown and demanded at least one more vote for it to stay in place beyond mid-February.

Boris Johnson has said he hopes to lift some restrictions from that time, including potentially reopening schools after half-term, as long as around 13m of the most vulnerable people – the four highest categories in the priority list – are vaccinated in time.

But the regulations governing England’s lockdown allow it to run for three months to March 31, sparking concerns among MPs participating via video link and from the sparsely populated and socially distanced backbenches.

Conservative Sir Graham Brady, chair of the party’s backbench 1922 committee, urged health secretary Matt Hancock to promise votes in the Commons at the end of January and end of February to allow MPs to decide if the “extreme controls” remain in place.

Hancock replied: “While these regulations do provide for new restrictions until the end of March, it is not because we expect the full national lockdown to continue until then but to allow the steady, controlled and evidence-led move down through the tiers on a local basis.

“Those tier changes do require a vote in parliament.

“The restrictions will therefore be kept under continuous review. There’s a statutory requirement to review every two weeks and a legal obligation to remove them if they’re no longer deemed necessary to limit the transmission of the virus.”

Mike Kemp via Getty Images
The lockdown begins in Birmingham, which was deserted outside the town hall on Wednesday

Conservative former minister Mark Harper backed calls for a vote in February.

The chair of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptics also insisted that restrictions must be eased once the 13m most vulnerable people in the first four priority groups for the jab are vaccinated.

He said: “Once we’ve vaccinated those four groups and they’ve got immunity and we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death, what possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

Replying, Hancock stressed the government would wait “to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point”.

Following that there will be an “evidence-led” move down the tiers of restrictions once the uK has “broken the link” between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.

“We will need to see the protection in reality, in lived reality on the ground, but we will watch this like a hawk and my aim is to keep these restrictions in place not a moment longer than they’re necessary,” the health secretary said.

But Conservative former minister Andrew Murrison said the government should be able to predict how many people will die based on how many are vaccinated.

He said: “The logic of [Hancock] anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. That means, since it cuts both ways, he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Senior Tory Sir Charles Walker said he would vote against the measures because he “can’t support criminalising a parent for seeing a child in the park over the coming months”.

“It’s not within my DNA to do that,” the 1922 committee vice-chair added.

For Labour, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said the PM has been “short of judgement” and should have put England into lockdown sooner.

He told the Commons: “This is a national emergency and a national lockdown is necessary.

“Indeed, we should have locked down sooner. We are voting this lockdown through on the twelfth night, yet in the run-up to Christmas the alarm bells should have been ringing.”