Government's decision to prolong lockdown was 'mistaken' says police commissioner for Milton Keynes
In an extrarodinary proclamation, PCC Matthew Barber reveals why is concerned about further loss of people's liberties
Newly-elected local Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber has spoken out in no uncertain terms about his reservations on the government's prolonging of lockdown restrictions for another four weeks.
Mr Barber, who is a Conservative, said he believes Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made the "wrong" decision.
He said his concern was whether the government, advised by SAGE, will have the courage to remove the restrictions in a month’s time.
"This is a judgement, one that very few envy the Prime Minister for. I happen to think that on this occasion the judgement being made is wrong, but I must also entertain the possibility that I am the one who is mistaken. As I began, the impact of the virus is real and so lives are at stake. My criticism is therefore not made lightly."
The PCC agrees the case made for delaying “Freedom Day” is a strong one and allows more people to receive Covid jabs. But if total vaccination coverage was the aim, it should have been stated much earlier, he said.
He is also worried there a further delay will be announced after July 19.
"All of the data that I have seen both locally and nationally shows all of the signs of the beginning of exponential growth (of Cvoid cases). That is happening now. Under the current level of restrictions. Delaying will not stop that growth in cases. Instead we will reach 19th July with a significantly higher number of cases in the population, a higher R-number and sadly as a result we will have seen more deaths."
He added: "If now is not the right time to start our return to normality then when? We know now that vaccination is the route out of this. Uptake has been incredibly high. Delivery extremely effective. The battle may not have been won, but the message is clear – the vaccination protects. Of course delaying will allow that protection to be spread further, but those doses of vaccine would still have been able to be administered during late June and early July even if theatres were allowed to open.
Mr Barber said he did not doubt for one moment the motives of either politicians or scientists charged with keeping the population safe.
But he added: "I don’t believe that we should belittle the impact that a delay even for a short period, and we must remember that this does not come in isolation, but at the end of a period of restrictions that began well over a year ago. The concern though is whether the government, advised by SAGE, will have the courage to remove the restrictions in a month’s time.
He believes there is a risk of the government "undervaluing" the freedom of the people.
"The vast majority were, and perhaps still are, willing to suspend their freedoms for a time in order to combat the clear threat to public health that endangers not just ourselves, but those around us.
"This selflessness has been admirable and I believe well placed. There seems however to have been a shift in the debate. It is less an argument for why our liberties should be restricted, but more an argument for how and when we should be granted them once more.
"This is unhealthy, and potentially damaging in the long run as the freedoms that we have not just cherished for generations, but actually fought to protect are withheld from the populous. This can only be done by consent. So far the consensus appears to be holding, but I do not believe the patience of the British public is never ending."
He added: "The economic impact of the pandemic has been huge. Masked somewhat by the largess of HM Treasury in compensating for the Government imposed restrictions, but that bill too will have to be settled eventually. Economic consequences are real. They hurt families as well as businesses. Hardship, destitution and even suicide have been the result.
"Yet our liberty is worth more than can be counted on the balance sheet of our companies. It is only our freedom that allows people to go out and establish businesses, create employment and generate income. It is that liberty that has so severely been curtailed over more than a year that has hampered so many weddings and meant that loved ones have been unable to say a proper farewell to their beloved friends and family.
"Whether you want to utilise your liberty by visiting a nightclub, a theatre, a concert hall or simply chatting spontaneously with a seventh person in your local pub, freedom itself should be cherished.
"Freedoms are never absolute. Before most of us had heard of the word coronavirus there was always a trade-off between the individual and society. Yet the imposed cure for the virus has push the bounds of that balancing act, and in many ways seemingly reset the equilibrium."
The PCC said he will personally continue to "follow the rules" for another four weeks, not because he "slavishly agree with government policy or for fear" , but because he believe in the rule of law.
"Does this mean I am happy about the delay? Most certainly not. I believe the decision to postpone the releasing of the final lockdown restrictions is mistaken."
Nevertheless he is encouraging others to continue to t follow the regulations and government guidance
"Thames Valley Police officers have done an incredible job of delivering appropriate and proportionate enforcement, whilst as ever putting themselves in harm’s way at the height of the pandemic. My respect for the individuals involved is huge and I know that they will continue to fulfil their duty to uphold the regulations," he said.
But he ended his outburst on a sombre note.
"I fear that 19th July will not be “Freedom Day” and that we will gradually slide into a winter of further restrictions. I sincerely hope that is me who proves to be mistaken in five weeks’ time," he said.