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COVID-19: Boris Johnson survives Conservative rebellion as MPs back delay of lockdown easing until 19 July

Written by on 16 June 2021

Coronavirus restrictions in England have been extended until 19 July as MPs voted in favour of a four-week delay to lockdown easing.

Boris Johnson faced a rebellion from some Conservative MPs who disagreed with the measures being continued into next month, but the regulations passed by 461 votes to 60.

It means the next, and final stage, of unlocking will now take place in just over four weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Monday June 14, 2021.  Image: Boris Johnson said the four week delay will allow more people to receive two COVID jabs

Opening the Commons debate on the extension of the coronavirus regulations, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Delta variant, formerly known as the Indian variant “has given the virus extra legs”.

The new variant “spreads more easily” and a four-week delay is necessary “to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them”, Mr Hancock added.

But some Conservative MPs have expressed their concern at the deviation from the government’s roadmap which had planned for all remaining restrictions to be removed on 21 June.

Conservative former minister Mark Harper, who chairs the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group expressed his “worry” that “we’re just going to be back here all over again extending the restrictions”.

But the health secretary said the country must learn “to live with this virus” after the four week “pause”.

Fellow Conservative Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) added that the restrictions were never proportionate “even from the outset”.

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PM: Delay will save ‘thousands of lives’

“I always thought it was wrong for them to take our freedoms, even though they believed that they were acting in our best interests in an emergency, but by any measure that emergency has now passed and yet freedoms are still withheld, and the government will not allow us to assess for ourselves the risks that we are prepared to encounter in our ordinary everyday lives,” he said.

Conservative former Cabinet minister Karen Bradley called on the government to “take advantage of the vaccine programme”.

“With a heavy heart, I’m afraid to say to the minister that I cannot support the government this evening, because I cannot find a way to explain to my constituents why the things they are looking forward to getting back to doing have to wait,” she said,

“We have to accept that we cannot save every life – I might have been able to be persuaded if the government was able to support those businesses that are unable to open but that support is simply not there.

“I will not be able to support the government, although I will on procedural matters.”

Conservative Peter Bone simply stated that he will be voting against the government as they have “got it wrong”, adding: “I don’t think the government has made the case for putting off unlocking.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks in the House of Commons Image: Health secretary Matt Hancock ‘confident’ restrictions will be removed on 19 July

And Tory John Redwood said: “It is time to trust people more, it is time to control people less.”

But trying to assure potential Conservative rebels, Mr Hancock said he has “a very high degree of confidence that we can deliver the vaccines that we think are needed in order then to be able to take step four on 19 July”.

Earlier, Labour signalled it would back the extension of restrictions.

Giving his support, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Delaying the road map by four weeks will hopefully relieve the pressure on hospitals…

“I think if we lifted all the restrictions now I fear that that could be akin to throwing petrol on a fire at this moment.”

Earlier on Wednesday during PMQs, Tory backbencher Philip Davies called on the PM to listen to his “Conservative instincts” and trust the country’s vaccination programme instead of listening to “communist scientists” who want to see restrictions “forever”.

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Johnson puts ‘freedom day’ back four weeks

Fellow Conservative MP William Wragg asked for an assurance that the easing of lockdown measures will not be delayed once more beyond the new 19 July date.

Mr Johnson reiterated he believes the four-week delay will save “many thousands more lives” and that restrictions will not be in place “forever”.

“Nobody, least of all I or [Conservative MP Mr Davies] want to see COVID restrictions last forever, nor do I think that they are going to last for ever.

“Because, as I made clear earlier this week, I think we can have a high degree confidence that our vaccination programme will work and I think we need to give it a little bit more time – as I have explained – to save many thousands more lives by vaccinating millions more people,” the PM told MPs.

MPs also voted to extend virtual participation in the House of Commons until July 22 – the start date of the summer recess – by 588 votes to 563.

The latest figures show 1,136 patients with COVID-19 were in hospital in the UK on 13 June, an 18% rise from the previous week.

The government has said the proposed extension will be reviewed to see if action can be taken two weeks sooner on Monday 5 July.

However, confirming the delay earlier this week in a Downing Street press conference, the PM did announce some changes including scrapping the 30-person limit on weddings from 21 June as planned and removing the requirement for care home residents to quarantine for two weeks after day trips.

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