Tonight, I reluctantly broke the Labour Party whip and voted against the Coronavirus Act. I did so because I simply could not in good conscience vote to extend the unprecedented and unaccountable Coronavirus Act. Our democracy is vital to the function of our country.
I am deeply concerned by the sweeping powers contained in this Act and do not believe there has been enough accountability or transparency. I do not believe we should be handing more unchecked powers over to this Conservative Government, which have shown itself not to be trusted.
Voting this Act down would have given the Government 21 days to propose a new framework to Parliament. We need a Coronavirus Act that works for the public, ensures accountability to Parliament and does not simply hand over these unaccountable powers to the Prime Minister and his advisor. We also know that the police have been given broad powers to detain people who may be infectious. However, it deeply concerning that the Crown Prosecution Service has found every charge made so far to be ‘incorrectly charged’. I have also seen nothing to address the fact that currently, these measures are being disproportionately used against people of colour. For example, it has been found previously that Police enforcing the coronavirus lockdown in England and Wales were almost up to seven times more likely to issue fines to Black, Asian and minority ethnic people than white people. I, therefore, do not feel comfortable extending powers to the police – especially now that fines have been dramatically increased. I realise the need for enforcement measures however this must be done in a careful and considered manner.
I strongly believe that such measures should be voted on in Parliament before they are implemented, and should have a clear end date. There has been a systematic erosion of Britain’s democracy and this worries me greatly. Prioritising criminal justice over public health does not simply undermine attempts to bring the pandemic under control, it also undermines the health of the UK’s democracy. While sending a signal to authoritarian governments the world over that a pandemic is legitimate cover to implement repressive measures indefinitely. For all these reasons and more, I voted against this Act.