A senior Tory MP has claimed the public have been ‘too willing’ to stay at home over the coronavirus, as rebel MPs in Boris Johnson’s party warned the government about protecting ‘freedoms’ as well as public health.
During a debate on the government’s Covid-19 regulations in the House of Commons, chair of the influential 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady urged ministers to approach the next lockdown review with ‘a view to removing restrictions and removing the arbitrary rules and limitations on freedom as quickly as possible’.
Commenting on the government’s overall goal of ensuring the NHS was not overwhelmed during the peak of coronavirus, the Tory MP explained: ‘The public have been willing to assist. If anything, in some instances it may be that the public have been a little bit too willing to stay at home.
‘I am sure I am not the only member who has heard from employers who are struggling to fulfil orders because it is difficult to get employees back from furlough. We all know how critical it is that they ought to be able to get their workers back so that we make sure that the jobs remain when the furlough period ends.’
Conservative MP Marcus Fysh also used the debate to claim that the ‘precedent that health trumps liberty must not be the conclusion’ from the current period as he raised concerns about the app to track coronavirus in UK.
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He said: ‘We’re not a people who take well to surveillance and it’s a little ironic that the country that has probably been surveilling its population more than any other appears to have been the source of this virus (China).
‘And the point is widespread surveillance really is not acceptable in Britain so I want to talk a little about the app that is being proposed as part of the next phase.’
Former Tory cabinet minister Sir John Redwood said it can be easy for MPs with a ‘guaranteed high salary’ to dismiss economic concerns.
He added: ‘It’s all too easy for us MPs with a guaranteed high salary paid into our bank accounts every month whether the economy does well or badly to be a little too dismissive of the struggles going on for people.
‘People who may be furloughed, they don’t get their tips, or their bonuses or their commissions.
‘Or they may have left their job already and many of them living in fear that the company they work for will run out of cash and not be able to trade.’
Sir Charles Walker urged the government to ‘do some modelling’ in relation to the lockdown on the impact that it will have on the 5.9 million privately-owned businesses in the UK.
He said: ‘If hundreds of thousands of those businesses go under, or a million or more, we will unleash a tidal wave of human misery. Unemployment of 12% is four million people.’
Conservative MP Andrew Griffith added: ‘I’m afraid it was utterly foreseeable to anyone who’s experienced an event much larger than the average parish fete, that into the ambiguous space between legislation and guidance would jump over-zealous police officers and public officials.’
Acting Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey criticised the Tory attitudes and slammed Graham Brady’s remarks about the British public.
He said: ‘It’s appalling to hear a senior Conservative MP criticising members of the public who are following the vital public health guidance to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. These people are doing the right thing, and it is outrageous and insulting for Graham Brady to suggest they are being lazy.’
The debate follows Steve Baker’s column in the Telegraph in which the former European Research Group chair branded the lockdown ‘absurd, dystopian and tyrannical’.