Plans to give police “the most draconian detention powers in modern British legal history” for another six months have been condemned by Conservative MPs.
Boris Johnson is expected on Thursday to push through extensions to coronavirus legislation that give far-reaching lockdown powers to close ports, ban protests and detain citizens to late September, despite being “hopeful” there will be a lifting coronavirus restrictions on June 21.
Dozens of his own MPs are set to rebel.
Cabinet ministers are understood to be divided over which lockdown measures need to be extended over concerns that needlessly extending powers will just inflame tensions among backbenchers.
The votes will come 24 hours after Mr Johnson is expected on Tuesday to be grilled by MPs on the Liaison committee, a grouping of senior MPs, and an ‘end of term’ meeting with his backbenchers organised by the 1922 committee.
MPs will vote three times: on extending the Coronavirus Act to September 25, to various lockdown regulations to a number of different dates from late June and into July, and to end proxy voting in the Commons on June 21.
Ministers are hoping that grouping the measures together will limit any rebellion as MPs will want to be seen to be voting to end the sick pay support and the furlough scheme.
However, with infections now at the same level as last autumn, dozens of Conservative MPs are expected to rebel. One Cabinet minister told The Telegraph: “There is a lot of cynicism and a lack of trust.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock stressed that the powers would remain in force only for as long as required to respond to the crisis when he persuaded MPs to support the Coronavirus Bill a year ago.
Writing in The Telegraph, Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said the Coronavirus Act, contains “some of the most draconian detention powers in modern British legal history, giving the police and other officials the power to detain us, potentially indefinitely.”
He added: “Retaining most temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act until October is not consistent with this pledge and will raise concerns that restrictions will be reintroduced in the autumn.”
At least 36 people were arrested at an anti-lockdown protest in central London on Saturday which saw crowds hurling missiles at police and assualting officers.
Thousands of people joined Saturday’s demonstration, which travelled from Hyde Park to St Paul’s Cathedral and back to Westminster, ahead of the anniversary of the first UK lockdown which began on March 23 last year.
Among those attending the march were controversial actor Laurence Fox and Piers Corbyn, brother of the former Labour Party leader Jeremy.