I have some form in voting against my own government when it comes to Covid restrictions. I will not just vote through any measure the government puts before Parliament. I scrutinise, ask questions and am prepared to stick my neck out if I think restrictions are unjustified.
As one of the MPs that backed a "rebel" amendment back in September insisting that Parliament must have a say on future Covid restrictions, I am glad this vote is taking place today and that MPs have the chance to make their views known.
But today I will be voting with the government in support of the extension of restrictions. I know some colleagues have been uneasy at the authoritarian nature of some of the measures we will be voting to extend today. I have some sympathy with them. In normal times, I would more than share that unease, but we are simply not in normal times.
First, we can see with our neighbours in Europe that a few months of success in fighting Covid does not mean that the battle is over. While our vaccination programme has been a great national success, there are still vulnerable people and frontline workers we need to protect and mutations and variants we need to guard against. It is not worth risking our progress so far for the sake of a few weeks.
The government has set out a clear roadmap to exiting lockdown and returning life to normal. That roadmap was rightly cautious and methodical to ensure once we exit restrictions, we exit them for good. The government took the first step on March 8th with schools returning, rules being relaxed on two people gathering outside for recreation, and allowing care home residents to nominate a single regular visitor. Further relaxation of restrictions will come into force next week.
As we move through the steps of the roadmap, some parts of the Coronavirus Act remain critical, to keep people safe and protect livelihoods, to make sure public services can operate efficiently, and to maintain regulations prohibiting international leisure travel as new cases and variants emerge elsewhere. This is all vital to protecting our recovery. And these roadmap regulations are subject to a statutory review every five weeks-a safeguard I regard as crucial.
The government has also been reviewing measures set out in the Coronavirus Act one year ago and today will also be expiring and suspending a number of measures, in recognition of the progress we have made.
I have known the Prime Minister for a long time and I am sure that his libertarian instincts will not want to keep the country and our economy under restrictions a second longer than is necessary. As he has said himself, he has taken absolutely no joy in having to implement the restrictive measures that have been needed to keep us safe. Any concerns that the government would want to hold on to extraordinary Covid powers for longer than necessary are misguided.
I am aching to visit family and friends, go to pubs and restaurants and enjoy live sport and music, as soon as I can. But now more than ever we must hold together, continue with our vaccination programme, and keep taking steady but irreversible steps out of lockdown. The measures we vote on today will allow us to do just that.