Monday, February 26

MPs back plan to extend lockdown rules to 19 July despite rebellion

MPs have voted by a margin of 461 to 60 to back Boris Johnson’s plan to extend lockdown restrictions in England to 19 July, despite a rebellion by Tory backbenchers in the House of Commons.

It means limits on numbers for sports events, theatres and cinemas will remain in place, nightclub doors will remain closed and people will be asked to continue working from home where possible. Several furious Tories rounded on the prime minister for the four-week delay, which he said was forced on him by surging cases of the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19.

That variant could push the R rate up to 7 if left to spread without any restrictions, Susan Hopkins, a Public Health England chief warned. Any value above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially.

Another 9,055 new Covid-19 cases were recorded in 24 hours – the highest daily rate since February, Thursday’s figures showed. Nine more people have died.
And health secretary Matt Hancock revealed the number of people taken to hospital suffering serious virus effects jumped by 48 per cent in a week, as the Delta variant continued to spread.

Mr Johnson’s margin of victory for the delay was swollen by 188 Labour votes as 49 Conservative MPs broke ranks to vote against the delay to step 4 of his roadmap out of lockdown, which was initially pencilled in for 21 June. Six Labour MPs and five members of the DUP also voted against, while 125 MPs did not vote.

The scale of opposition on top of critical comments from Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg underlines the difficulties facing Mr Johnson. At Prime Minister’s Questions, Tory MP Philip Davies questioned why Mr Johnson was not trusting the common sense of the British people and his conservative instincts of individual freedom and individual responsibility rather than the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

The prime minister insisted he did not want to see Covid restrictions last forever but a little more time was needed to vaccinate millions more people to help combat the spread of the Delta variant. And Conservative William Wragg asked: When can we expect the coordinated chorus of Sage members recommencing their media appearances to depress morale?

Mr Johnson replied: I believe that academic and scientific freedom are an invaluable part of our country and I also note that my scientific colleagues would echo my sentiments that we need to learn to live with Covid.