Sunday Column: Why the Coronavirus Act must be repealed.
Updated: May 18
There is an infamous scene in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones in which Representative Jar Jar Binks proposes to give emergency powers to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (a.k.a Darth Sidious) at the start of the clone wars. Of course, he never gives these powers up and continues to prolong the crisis until he eventually assumes absolute power as emperor and dissolves the Galactic Senate. At the time this seemed to be an allusion to the Patriot Act passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks which gave the US government sweeping powers of surveillance and is still in force nearly 20 years later.
This time last year the UK passed its own version of the Patriot Act in the form of the Coronavirus Act 2020, under the justification of fighting against what is a comparatively mild coronavirus with a very low fatality rate. It gave the UK government the power to close businesses, to retain fingerprints and DNA profiles that would otherwise need to be destroyed, the power to restrict gatherings, to postpone elections and most worrying of all is Schedule 21 which gives police the powers to detain "potentially infectious persons" and remove them to a place for screening and assessment. The Coronavirus Regulations 2020, however, are the source of the government's powers to authorise lockdowns, it is a 12-page piece of secondary legislation created under the Public Health Act 1984 and it sets out in law that certain business premises must close and members of the public cannot leave their homes except for a "reasonable excuse" set out in s.6.
Yesterday, thousands of people took to the streets of London to demand the return of their freedoms and they were insulted and abused by the usual suspects on social media who just last week were outraged at the police's disgraceful treatment of protesters at the Sarah Everard vigil. But these are not "Covidiots" as the media likes to brand them, they are in fact people who were told a year ago, almost to the day, that they would be locked down for three weeks to flatten the curve and have found themselves without a job, with reduced life chances or have lost their businesses because these restrictions never seem to end. There are also people who have a much better understanding than the people who brand them "idiots" because they know that all dictatorships are born out of fear including in 1933 when the Nazi's passed the Enabling Act due to the burning of the Reichstag building and this allowed them to assume absolute power with no accountability. Every left-winger who supports lockdown needs to be asked why they are supporting giving massive amounts of power over their lives to a Conservative government.
The deification of the NHS is also part of the problem, there has been a failure to admit that the NHS may not be fit for purpose if it is in constant danger of being overwhelmed and it will need radical reform in order to cope in the future but yet we refuse to have this conversation and are instead willing to give up our fundamental rights and freedoms in order to "protect the NHS".
We now have health experts such as Dr Mary Ramsey on the Andrew Marr show saying she thought some restrictions should remain for a "few more years" but it doesn't have to be this way, if we can get rid of these regulations then we can pull the rug from underneath the government and take away its ability to restrict our lives. I would therefore urge readers to write to their MPs and demand the removal of these restrictions and remember that the government is there to serve us not the other way around.
Scotland should be grateful it is not in the EU
Surely the SNP's case that Scotland should crash out of the UK and rejoin the EU is now in tatters now that 40% of Scotlands population has been vaccinated, which would not have otherwise been the case had we been part of the EU. Imagine if Scotland had left the UK after the 2014 referendum, we could now be facing a third wave of the coronavirus with a government hell-bent on keeping restrictions in place, the AstraZeneca vaccine would be in short supply and possible have been suspended last week and a much smaller number of people would have been vaccinated. We might also have been facing a potential blockade on the Scotland-England border to stop vaccines from leaving the country.
Nicola Sturgeon's roadmap out of lockdown is already far too slow to get out of something which started as a three-week circuit breaker, maybe her interim successor will be a bit faster but things would have been much slower if the overcautious approach were coupled with a disastrous EU-led vaccine rollout.