The government’s proposed new lockdown measures for England have been approved by the House of Commons with MPs backing the motion by 516 votes in favour against just 38 against.
Voting on the motion brought by Boris Johnson’s government took place in parliament this afternoon, with most Labour MPs backing the new restrictions in line with party leader Keir Starmer’s commitment to support a national lockdown.
Opening the debate for the opposition today, Starmer told the Commons: “Frankly, I don’t want parliament to be legislating on any of these issues – least of all when the British public has made so many sacrifices already…
“But while these regulations are not in any way desirable or perfect, they are now necessary, as the government has lost control of the virus, and we will support them. The country is at – indeed we’re several weeks past – a tipping point in the fight against the virus.”
Starmer added: “I’m afraid the reality is the two pillars of the government strategy, the £12bn track and trace and the regional restrictions, have been washed away by the second wave.”
The Labour leader also reiterated the party’s call for the government to extend the evictions ban for private renters and to urgently reintroduce the ‘Everyone In’ campaign to help take homeless people off the street.
Asked as a point of order why Labour’s ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown – called for weeks ago – would have been better, Starmer responded: “The lower the rate of infection, the lower the admissions, the more chance there is to get the virus under control.
“That’s why you have to go early. If you want to safeguard the economy you have to go early. How on earth has it helped the British economy to delay and then to go into a lockdown for four weeks?”
Discussing the government’s failure to properly deal with the variety of problems in the NHS test and trace system, the Labour leader told the Commons: “We’ve been on about the track, trace and isolate system for months.
“The promises come by the wheelbarrow, the delivery never. Only 20% of people who are isolating are doing it. Something is going wrong. Continually pushing away challenge and pretending the problem doesn’t exist is a huge part of the problem.”
No vote was recorded for ten Labour MPs this afternoon: MPs Paul Blomfield, Dan Jarvis, Kevan Jones, Justin Madders, Shabana Mahmood, Anna McMorrin, John Spellar, Graham Stringer, Derek Twigg and Dame Rosie Winterton.
Backbench Labour MP Graham Stringer actively abstained, saying that the government and scientists had made “exaggerated claims” on Covid deaths and he had no “faith” in the Tories to improve testing during lockdown.
Labour’s Halton MP Derek Twigg argued that he could not support the measures as he said there was “real suffering going on in my constituency”, including mental health issues and poverty, that would be worsened by a fresh lockdown.
Labour frontbencher Stephen Kinnock voiced his support for the bill but reiterated criticisms made by Welsh Labour colleagues this week that the government only chose to extend furlough when England was facing a lockdown.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP told parliament: “For all the disputes about graphs and modelling the trends are clear… More people will die over the next two to three weeks because we did not act sooner.”
Labour’s health spokesperson concluded: “Tonight, we will support these measures. But we are demanding our constituents pay a huge price and make greater sacrifices because of a failure to act sooner.”
Education unions have criticised the decision to keep schools open during lockdown, with the NEU, Unite and the NASUWT saying on Tuesday that they were preparing members to act if the government does not keep schools safe for staff.
The Commons vote saw a large number of Conservatives rebel with 32 MPs including former Tory Party leader Ian Duncan Smith voting against the motion after a heated debate that was subject to over 50 contributions from Tory MPs.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May expressed concerns about the new restrictions and called for MPs to be given more information by the government as “parliament will make better decisions if it is fully and better informed”.
She also criticised the decision to ban church services and the decision to move many Remembrance Sunday services online, asking: “Surely those men and women who gave down their lives for our freedom deserve better than this?”
Backbench Tory MP Graham Brady declared that he would be voting against the lockdown rules with “greater conviction than I had on any vote in 23 years” as it was unfairly taking away “the fundamental freedoms of 68 million people”.
The measures voted on today, and set to start on November 5th and end on December 2nd, will see all non-essential shops and hospitality close – but unlike during the original lockdown, schools, colleges and universities will remain open.
Labour leader Keir Starmer used the most recent Prime Minister’s Questions session earlier this afternoon to issue Johnson with a challenge to fix the test and trace system by the end of the four-week lockdown period.
Latest official figures show that a further 25,177 people have tested positive for Covid, while the latest daily death toll for the virus is 429. This brings the total reported number of coronavirus deaths in the UK to 47,742.