Huw Merriman – 2021 Speech on Covid-19 Restrictions

The speech made by Huw Merriman, the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle, in the House of Commons on 14 December 2021.

Over the past year I have supported some covid measures and voted against others. With that in mind, my constituents may be struggling with the logic of my voting record, but I believe it is straightforward and I hope to exemplify why that is the case.

Where the measures have felt disproportionate to the wider harm, I have voted against their introduction. An example was putting the constituency in differing tiers when hospital admissions were low. Where the hospitals could not cope, I did support lockdowns as proportionate in those dramatic circumstances.

Where the wording of measures felt contrary to the aims they sought to deliver, I voted against their introduction. The 10 pm curfew was a good example of that; everyone piled out of the pub and on to public transport, and the Government eventually conceded, and reversed. That was the same concept that led me to vote against last week’s self-isolation regulations. I could not understand why, when omicron was going to become the dominant variant, we were requiring people to self-isolate; it would have led to a pingdemic. I am glad that the Government are reversing that today and I will gladly support that regulation.

As for the other three, my thoughts are as follows. For face coverings, I voted for the same outcome for retail and public transport last week. I do not want to see face coverings become a permanent feature and I do not want to see them reintroduced in the classroom, but for a limited period of time, in a settings reference, it feels right to me to extend the scope. On NHS workers being vaccinated, I voted for the same outcome for the social care workforce, and will do so again. We know that getting vaccinated reduced the delta transmission rate by 60%. We also know that patients who get vaccinated are not completely protected from serious illness or death. Surely, if care is in the DNA, it is not unreasonable to expect vaccination to be an entry point. If NHS workers believe that their own choices come before the safety of their patients, or if they do not believe that the NHS is about working for covid and working for vaccines, or that the evidence on those is true, I question if they are in the right profession.

For vaccine certification at larger venues, I am genuinely perplexed about the outrage at, at worst, showing paperwork. Last month, I got asked for my passport when I came back into the country. I have to show evidence of purchase when I watch a football match. I was also delighted to be asked for ID showing my age when I wanted to buy a beer, only a month back. What is the issue in temporarily asking someone to evidence vaccination, or a negative lateral flow test, for certain venues? If it keeps people safe, and in jobs because we do not have to put more draconian restrictions on events and hospitality, I am happy to oblige.

The impact of the omicron variant is not known. What we do know is that the doubling rate is two to three days; for delta it was seven days. In South Africa, where the variant emerged, the hospitalisation rate is now rising. Yes, the vaccination rate is lower in South Africa. However, it is also their summer, they have a higher level of antibodies from natural infection, and the average age is 13 years lower than in the UK. These restrictions are limited in time and scope. I ask myself, “What is it that I will not be able to do tomorrow that I could do last week?” The answer is, absolutely nothing. A little more face-mask-wearing. A little more admin to go to the football. If you are an NHS worker and are not going to vaccinate, there are a record number of jobs available for you to work somewhere else.

There is a larger issue at play, which I find infuriating. Over 80% of my constituents have got themselves vaccinated. They are keeping themselves and their communities safe. They are minimising their own impact on the NHS. There are a small minority who are not playing by the same rules, and have the temerity to lecture me on freedom. Let me tell them this: their freedom to remain unvaccinated and then do as they choose is reducing the freedoms of those who have done the right thing for themselves and the wider community.

As a Conservative, I believe that rights are not absolute: they have to come with responsibilities. Being a cavalier for freedoms is what we were sent to this place to be. Being cavalier about the health of the public is contrary to that principle. With that in mind, I will be supporting these proportionate and limited measures this evening.