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Cross-party push to put clear time limits on emergency coronavirus powers

March 22, 2020 10:51 PM
By Mark Pack
Originally published by Babergh South Suffolk Liberal Democrats

The coronavirus crisis requires unprecedented emergency measures.

The more extreme the measure, the more carefully it must be circumscribed and the more clearly must its lifespan constrained.

That's why the unprecedented cancellations of elections by the Coronavirus Bill are well drafted. They are necessary to protect public health; they are clearly defined; and they are clearly time-limited until May next year. Even the power to delay by-elections in the interim does not mean delay past May 2021. Come the first Thursday in May 2021, electoral normality will return.

Other emergency provisions, however, are not so well scoped.

That's why there is welcome cross-party pressure to remedy that:

[David] Davis, a long-standing campaigner on civil liberties, backed the amendment put down by Labour's Harriet Harman, which puts a "sunset" clause on the legislation after a year.
The Liberal Democrats have also put forward an amendment requiring MPs to renew the emergency powers after three months, as well as a bid to compel the PM to seek an extension to the Brexit transition period.

Ed Davey, the party's acting leader, told The Independent: "New emergency powers are absolutely necessary to deal with this crisis, but Liberal Democrats do not believe handing over such far-reaching powers to Boris Johnson unchecked is not in the public's interest.

"Liberal Democrats are therefore seeking cross-party support for to our proposal to limit the new powers to 3 months, after which they would have to be renewed by a vote of the country's democratically elected MPs."