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SIR GRAHAM BRADY: The public must feel that they have a say in the Covid rules


The human mind is remarkable, but also fragile. In the depths of the spring national lockdown, it wasn't just the frontline health workers who showed courage and determination, but countless community groups, from churches to rugby clubs, who stepped forward to help where they could were needed. There was a joint effort to overcome the crisis.

But what supports us in difficult times? We need hope, the feeling that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We need the company of our family and friends – people are above all social animals. It is the network of children, grandchildren, sponsored children and friends who have stayed with you through thick and thin.

We also need a sense of involvement – knowing (or at least believing) that we are part of the choices that affect our lives, that nothing will be done to us, but with our consent.

Sir Graham Brady, as pictured, said Boris Johnson needed full powers as the Covid emergency began in March, but now Parliament needs to be involved in future decisions

Mr Brady said it was "obvious the government is struck the wrong balance with its lockdown"

Mr Brady said it was "obvious the government is struck the wrong balance with its lockdown"

Unfortunately, this has been so lacking in recent months that the government has issued one restriction after another without a parliamentary debate. Unfortunately, this means that the broader discussion in our country has also been restricted.

Do Lockdowns Really Work? What about the higher costs to our health? How can we alleviate the feeling of fear that still afflicts so many people's lives? These are important questions and I would like to see them make their way not just in the newspapers or on the internet but also in the House of Commons.

Of course, I understand why Boris and his advisors have assumed such far-reaching powers. First they were necessary.

In March there was a feeling of a storm approaching, accompanied by creepy predictions of hundreds of thousands of deaths. The actual death toll was severe, but luckily the modeling that informed the first reaction turned out to be a long way off. At the time, it seemed plausible that the coronavirus could overwhelm critical care capacity. The government had to act quickly, so the coronavirus law did not contain provisions for parliamentary scrutiny (apart from a review every six months).

However, it wasn't long before we got a little more perspective. It became clear which groups were largely unaffected (children and adolescents), which were most at risk (older people and people with serious pre-existing illnesses), especially in nursing homes where far more support should have been given to protect residents and staff. It also found that outdoor activities were largely safe.

This was an important opportunity for the government to be more open and treat voters as adults rather than children. Still, the opportunity was missed. And it was then that public confidence began to wane. A police drone harassed hikers in the countryside. People who sat alone on park benches were told they were a threat to society. It was around the same time that I asked in that paper why it was okay to buy flowers in Tesco when the flower seller was not allowed to do his trade at my local outdoor market.

It became apparent that the government struck the wrong balance of keeping people out of the sunshine indoors, absurdly telling them that they were only "allowed" one form of exercise per day and preventing market vendors and garden centers from making a living, when it was perfectly safe. None of this is intended to deny the strenuous efforts of my government colleagues. Anyone charged with these responsibilities would have made some mistakes. Some things will always go wrong.

Mr Brady said he wanted the depicted Prime Minister and his government to listen to Parliament and allow debate on future restrictions

Mr Brady said he wanted the depicted Prime Minister and his government to listen to Parliament and allow debate on future restrictions

By excluding others from the way decisions are made, senior ministers have made their jobs more difficult, not easier.

Parliamentary scrutiny may be impractical, but it is also essential for good decision-making. Debate and questions test assumptions. In this way the arguments of the ministers are made public and we can insist on knowing when and why particular measures and restrictions will end.

Through this process, ministers can get a real feel for the willingness of the public to accept their policies.

For this reason, I have tried in the past few days to ensure that, where reasonable, emergency measures against coronavirus are discussed and agreed before they come into force. I was very pleased that so many colleagues supported the amendment that I tabled. It is important to say that the MPs who supported a bigger role for Parliament came from a wide range of views on the virus. It is the principle that is so important.

The parliamentary debate will serve as a discipline for the government and its advisors and hold back the temptation to take more extreme measures. MPs can insist that the government take into account the adverse health, psychological and economic consequences of the policy, as well as the benefits.

Above all, perhaps the feeling will be restored that the public has a voice alongside the epidemiologists and statisticians who have guided politics up to now. Only when we are guided by a national conversation can we make effective decisions about the virus.

That way, the British people will feel like they are ruled by consensus again.

It is a democratic debate that ensures public compliance. Waving a stick with them will fail.

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