Minister defends plans to extend ‘excessive and disproportionate’ COVID lockdown powers in England for another six months

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Rebecca Speare-Cole
·3 min read
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Watch: Ben Wallace - 'None of us want lots of draconian measures'

Defence secretary Ben Wallace has defended plans to extend COVID lockdown powers in England, measures that one former Tory minister has branded "excessive and disproportionate".

The government is facing a severe backlash over plans to extend draconian restrictions under the Coronavirus Act for another six months.

But speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Wallace said the government was “taking assessments from the science” to make decisions on lockdown policy.

He said: "The final mile is the most important thing for us all, make sure we buckle down, get through the different stages the prime minister set out."

Asked whether the government could be extending the powers for longer than necessary, Wallace said: "Parliament can always remove powers if it needs to."

He added: "None of us want to have draconian measures but this is an unprecedented global pandemic that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives around the world."

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace arriving at BBC Broadcasting House in central London to appear on the BBC1 current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show. Picture date: Sunday March 21, 2021.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in central London on Sunday. (PA)

"At each stage we will be taking assessments from the science, from where we are in the pandemic, and take the steps required," he said.

"It is not a one-way street. Just because we are seeking to extend the powers doesn't mean we are deaf to how facts change on the ground."

Read: Laurence Fox criticises 'despicable' police at lockdown protest

However, former Conservative minister Steve Baker described the Coronavirus Act as "excessive and disproportionate”, adding that it "should now go".

He said: "The government really does need to start taking advantage of their own great success on the vaccination programme."

Watch: Prominent lockdown sceptic Steve Baker set to rebel

Baker said he expects to vote "squarely against" the Coronavirus Act, adding: "They really should now start looking at dramatically reducing the range of powers that they have."

He said ministers should also avoid putting police in an "invidious" position, having earlier noted "we politicians have got to take the blame" for how officers have been enforcing powers – despite "mistakes" such as using drones to pursue people.

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, said enforcing lockdown laws had become a "no-win" situation for officers due to the government's mixed messages on pandemic restrictions.

Apter said officers have been battling with the challenge of keeping up with "ever-changing COVID rules and legislation" and that as a result have been "abused, assaulted and vilified far too often" during the pandemic.

A person passes a 'Bending the rules costs lives' government coronavirus sign on Old Christchurch road in Bournemouth, during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Picture date: Friday January 22, 2021.
A person passes a government coronavirus sign in Bournemouth. (PA)

It comes as the Met Police faced a severe backlash for its response to a vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common, during which four people were arrested.

Tensions have been heightened after MPs passed the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on Tuesday, which gives extra powers to police forces to clampdown on protests.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Apter said the scenes at last weekend's Clapham vigil had shown the difficulties of policing during the pandemic.

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The police response had attracted considerable media and political comment, "some of it very hard, often unfair", he said.

Apter said police had faced similar criticism for their handling of Black Lives Matter and anti-lockdown protests, with officers "damned by some when they intervene, and damned by others when they do not".

"We have repeatedly called on the English and Welsh governments to stop issuing mixed messages to avoid further confusion when lockdown measures are lifted," Apter wrote.

"We warned the prime minister not to repeat the lack of clarity over last year's pandemic measures before he announced his roadmap out of lockdown."

Watch: Police clash with anti-lockdown demonstrators in London's Hyde Park