British PM Johnson wins Parliament backing for plan to lift Covid-19 lockdown

After a series of past U-turns during the pandemic, Mr Boris Johnson wants to ensure any easing of lockdown rules will not need to be reversed. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won the support of Parliament on Thursday (March 25) 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.

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