Saqib Bhatti is MP for Meriden.
As I said to the Prime Minister in the Commons on Monday, 2020 has been devastatingly difficult for the whole country.
I’ll be honest: if you had said to me 11 months ago when I was elected as a MP that we would have had to have not one but two national lockdowns, with businesses shuttered and people being unable to meet, I’d have probably said you’d been watching too many movies.
As a Conservative, and a former President of the Greater Birmingham Chambers, I got into politics to help businesses to flourish, grow and employ more people. To extend individual freedoms and opportunities, not restrict them.
What we are being asked to vote for today doesn’t come easily or naturally to me, or to any Conservative. From Disraeli to Thatcher, we have always been the party that champions and protects freedom. This is exactly what sets us apart of from the socialists on the other side of the House, and we must never lose the value we place on individual responsibility.
But there is another thing that Conservatives and Conservative governments are known for: being the ones who are prepared to take the difficult decisions, acting in the national interest. And today is such a day, where we must take those tough decisions, implement difficult measures, for the national good.
I have been a proponent of the Government’s regional approach to increasing restrictions in response to localised increases in virus rates and hospital admissions, and it made total sense to increase restrictions in areas where rates were high or rising.
However, the data presented by the Government’s scientists in recent days leaves in no doubt the virus is now growing exponentially again throughout the country. Faced with this stark reality, we must act.
If we don’t take action, the NHS will become overwhelmed in a matter of weeks. That would mean cancer screenings postponed, operations cancelled, important treatments pushed back, with huge implications for the health of the nation. In a normal winter we already know demand on the NHS increases significantly, with the addition of a resurgent Covid-19, it could be pushed to breaking point.
Going to our doors every Thursday to clap for NHS workers became one of the highlights of the first lockdown, and celebrated the commitment and sacrifice that our key workers make to keep us safe and healthy.
By taking action now, we can ensure the NHS continues to be there for us when we need it, as it always has been. It’s why the Government is telling people to continue to use the NHS, get their scans, turn up for their appointments and pick up their treatments.
However, I am also painfully aware that these measures come at a significant cost. This has been an exceptionally hard year for people, businesses, employers, and huge sacrifices and efforts have already been made.
It’s why it is important that these new measures are time limited to the 2nd December, and that the Chancellor has stepped up and extended support, extending the furlough scheme at the 80 per cent rate, extended the generosity of Self-Employment Support Scheme to 80 per cent of profits, and extended application deadlines for government loans.
I believe taking these new measures now, as hard as it is, gives us the best hope of businesses being able to reopen and trade over the Christmas period, the busiest trading time of the year for many, to help on the road to recovery and ultimately save jobs and livelihoods.
The Prime Minister also laid out yesterday how the Government will use this time to hammer forward technological and medical advances to beat this virus. At the end of this week, a whole city mass testing pilot will begin in Liverpool.
It has always been a constant, difficult balancing act to protect health and save lives while also protecting jobs, livelihoods and mental health. It continues to be so.
In the spring, the country came together in a huge national effort to fight this virus. We asked people to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. And you did, and undoubtedly many, many lives were saved as a result. Thank you.
Today, reluctantly but necessarily, we must ask people for that national effort again. Just like before, together we can and will get through these difficult times and once again protect our NHS and save lives.
The country is looking to us to get through this. These measures are difficult to stomach and challenge my fundamental of views of protecting individual liberties and individual responsibilities, but I am driven to supporting these measures by my primary duty: to do everything I can to protect the lives of the people I represent.