Johnson Wins U.K. Parliament Backing for Plan to Lift Lockdown

Prime Minister Boris Johnson won the support of Parliament for his plan to bring England slowly out of lockdown, even as some members of his own Conservative Party protested continued curbs to civil liberties and frustration at the ongoing damage to the economy.

Members of Parliament voted 484 to 76 to extend the government’s coronavirus emergency powers, with Johnson’s “road map” for easing lockdown also entering law. Key dates include the outdoor mixing of households on March 29, the re-opening of non-essential shops from April 12 at the earliest, and the potential for all social-distancing rules to be lifted on June 21.

After a series of past U-turns during the pandemic, Johnson wants to ensure any easing of lockdown rules will not need to be reversed. But the cautious approach has drawn criticism from some Tory MPs, who say the decline in cases and deaths -- as well as the more than 30 million vaccine doses that have been administered -- means the timetable should be accelerated.

Though Johnson won the vote on easily on Thursday, the strength of anti-lockdown sentiment during the debate may yet affect decision-making as the government charts a course out of the pandemic.

“Tyranny is a habit, and we haven’t quite kicked it,” Conservative MP Desmond Swayne said, objecting to an idea floated by Johnson on Wednesday that pub landlords could be allowed to require proof of vaccination against Covid-19 before granting entry.

Milk Protest

Tory MP Charles Walker vowed to walk around London with a pint of milk as a symbol of freedom and his right to protest.

“At the end of the day, it will be warm, it will have separated,” Walker told Parliament. “And I can choose whether to drink it or pour it away because it will be robbed of its refreshing elegance by the time it’s been in my pocket for 12 hours. And if I pour it away that might cause people some concern -- but it doesn’t matter, because it’s my pint of milk.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the slow approach and warned that virus cases among younger people are again on the rise, pointing to the recent re-opening of schools.

Ministers have also pointed to the surge of infections in Europe as a reason to move cautiously -- and the government has said tougher border measures may also become necessary to keep out variants of the diseases scientists fear could undermine the vaccine roll-out.

“New variants also remain a risk because we don’t yet know with confidence the impact of the vaccine against the new variants,” Hancock told Parliament.

Unlocking Timetable

March 29
  • ‘Stay at home’ order changes to ‘stay local’
  • Two households or six people from more than two households allowed to meet outdoors
  • Outdoor sports such as tennis, golf, grassroots football to resume
April 5
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson to provide an update on international travel
April 12 at earliest
  • Non-essential retail and personal care businesses such as hairdressers, nail salons to reopen
  • Libraries, museums, other public buildings to reopen
  • Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools to reopen
  • Hospitality to reopen for outdoor service only
  • Attendance at weddings, wakes rises from 6 to 15
April 15
  • Government target for vaccinating all over-50s
May 17 at earliest
  • The earliest date at which foreign travel can resume
  • Most outdoor social-contact rules lifted, but gatherings of more than 30 people in parks and gardens remain illegal
  • Indoor mixing allowed for two households of any size or 6 people from more than two households
  • Indoor hospitality, hotels and bed and breakfasts reopen
  • Entertainment venues such as cinemas and children’s play areas re-open
  • Indoor performances and sporting events can host crowds of up to 1,000 people or be half-full, whichever is lower
  • Outdoor venues and sporting events can host crowds of 4,000 or be half-full, whichever is lower. Largest outdoor venues, such as the biggest soccer stadiums, can host 10,000 people or be a quarter full, whichever is lower
  • Up to 30 people can attend weddings, receptions, wakes, funerals and other life events
Before June 21
  • Review to report on whether Covid status certification can play a role in reducing restrictions on social contact and reopening the economy
  • Review to report on social distancing measures, including on use of face masks, working from home
June 21 at earliest
  • All limits on social contact to be lifted
  • Final sectors of the economy, such as night clubs, allowed to reopen
  • Restrictions lifted on large events and performances
  • Restrictions lifted on attendance to weddings and other life events

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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