Conservative MP Steve Baker has demanded the government scrap all social distancing guidance – not just the legally-binding restrictions – from 19 July, or risk creating a “hollow and haunted society”.
Mr Baker, who chairs the lockdown-sceptic COVID Recovery Group, also claimed new Health Secretary Sajid Javid had “worsened” the government’s position by indicating social distancing would be required beyond the supposed “terminus date” for the ending of restrictions.
Asked by Sky’s deputy political editor Sam Coates whether he welcomed the fact Mr Javid described 19 July as “irreversible“, Mr Baker said the claim did not go far enough.
He said: “I am very pleased he doubled down on it, but I would just observe he has doubled down on the existing government line to take. In fact In a sense he has worsened the position.
“The impression which Matt [Hancock] was happy to create in the Commons was that once we got to step four there would not be regulations – freedom from regulations – now that’s difficult to reconcile with what’s now going on with events with Covid certification being trialled, with social distancing and test and trace – what actually is the world going to look like when we get our freedom back?”
Mr Baker said guidance on face masks and the one metre rule should all be removed next month to ensure businesses do not feel pressured to follow them by default.
“When we get freedom day at the end of this period we should from then on be on voluntary-only measures in my view,” he said.
“But I’m very conscious that even voluntary measures will be interpreted by the Health and Safety Executive and businesses and could effectively be compulsory. So until the government stops recommending these things, too many businesses will become unviable.”
Some Conservative MPs agitating for an swift easing of COVID-19 rules had welcomed Sajid Javid’s appointment as health secretary, seeing him as more instinctively pro-liberty than his predecessor.
But Mr Baker said “I’m not convinced the social distancing review is in Sajid Javid’s control, it seems to be in Michael Gove’s”.
Asked if that worried him, he said: “It is more worrying, Michael is much more pro-state than most conservatives, particularly Sajid and myself. I don’t think Michael minds using state power so long as he’s the one using it.
“I’m very clear that social distancing makes large businesses unviable and could lead to hollow and haunted society where much that gives us joy isn’t feasible.”