Liberty’s View on “Freedom Day”: whatever this Government says, it’s putting our freedoms at risk

Posted on 20 Jul 2021

As Ministers relaxed Covid restrictions this week in the name of “Freedom Day”, they had the chance to change direction in their response to the pandemic, and prioritise support over punishment.

By continuing to prioritise divisive, coercive strategies like vaccine passports, rather than providing the support needed to protect everyone, they have once again chosen a course that puts our rights at risk.

Support over punishment would have led to true freedom

This is the moment many have waited for – but many have been dreading. Some of the restrictions that have put us at risk of being criminalised are being lifted, but by issuing confused communications and failing to provide guidance and support for clinically vulnerable people, the Government has made “Freedom Day” a moment of fear and division by putting the most marginalised at greater risk.

Liberty has yet again written to the Health Secretary calling for him to end the use of coercive strategies and instead provide material support and clear guidance to help people stay safe. We wrote to the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock back in November 2020 and sent him our Protect Everyone Bill in March 2021, asking for the same measures.

Instead we’ve had a pandemic response that has consistently prioritised coercion and punishment over support, as exemplified by the Coronavirus Act – one of the most authoritarian laws in at least a generation, which remains on the statute books.

Policing and criminal punishment should never have been front and centre of the response to a public health crisis, and the Coronavirus Act was the wrong approach. It is welcome that many of these measures will now play a diminished role. However, the pandemic is ongoing and the easing of restrictions has serious implications for the rights of the clinically vulnerable, and for front line workers.

Their freedom is contingent upon support that this Government has failed to provide time and again.

Vaccine passports take us a step towards a two-tier society

Instead of providing the support needed to protect everyone, those in power have continued to dole out coercive policies such as vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations, causing more division and putting all of our rights at risk.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister once again backtracked on promises not to introduce vaccine passports and said they will be mandatory for entry to venues such as nightclubs from September. Once introduced, their use will become more normalised, leading to a two-tier system in which some people can access freedoms and support while others are shut out – with the impact most keenly felt by already marginalised communities.

Research shows that when people think encouragement has become coercion they become more wary of Government programmes, so vaccine passports could damage uptake of the vaccine.

This is not a solution, it is just another example of a failure of leadership from those in power.

It did not have to be this way. At the start of this year Liberty set out in our Protect Everyone Bill an alternative pandemic response.

And while the Government may have paused the very worst of its coercive powers, the freedom granted this week is only meaning it is something we can all enjoy. Unfortunately, the manner in which this Government has acted means that freedom for some, will come at a cost for others.

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