Police move in to disperse protesters in Trafalgar Square in London on September 26, 2020, at a 'We Do Not Consent!' mass rally against vaccination and government restrictions designed to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, including the wearing of masks and taking tests for the virus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Time for Covid disobedience?

Have the British people abandoned their love of liberty?

The history of civil disobedience in Britain is a long and honourable one. The evolution of the country from an absolutist feudal monarchy into a modern parliamentary democracy has been punctuated by violence such as the civil wars of the 1640s and the revolutionary riots and plots of the early nineteenth century, but more often it was the quiet and peaceful resistance of men and women of conscience refusing to obey tyrannical laws and rulers that has spearheaded political progress and social change in this country.

Such disparate movements as the nonconformist Christian sects of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the Chartist campaigns for extending the franchise in the nineteenth century; and Suffragette agitation for votes for women in the early twentieth century, were the triggers that secured the necessary steps in moulding Britain as an almost uniquely tolerant and stable polity.

In living memory, the Ban the Bomb marches and sit downs of the early 1960s, while failing to achieve their goal of abolishing nuclear weapons, certainly raised public consciousness and arguably helped prevent their deployment in war.

In India, Gandhi’s mass civil disobedience of the British Raj in the 1920s and 1930s, paved the way for independence, while in the US the civil rights movement of the 1960s secured legal if not economic equality for African Americans. In stark contrast to the nihilistic violence of the recent BLM riots, it should be noted that the civil disobedience practised by Martin Luther King and his followers was peaceful, and that the violence came from white supremacists defending segregation.

This Government has taken us several long strides down the road to dictatorship

Britain is – or was – a notoriously law-abiding society. Famously, governments obeyed every line of the EU’s diktats while our French neighbours cheerfully ignored these “international laws” when they deemed them to be contrary to France’s national interests. Well within living memory, before guns became a fashion accessory of the criminal classes, British police were almost unique in Europe for being unarmed. This was because of an unwritten civil contract between the state and the people. Citizens believed they were governed justly and fairly, and in the main meekly obeyed the laws passed by the parliament they elected. That civil contract is now at risk.

The slow erosion of traditional British rights and liberties over the last thirty years has been put under a spotlight and given rocket boosters by the Government’s fumbling, contradictory and yet deeply authoritarian response to the Covid-19 crisis. With Parliament conveniently absent because of the pandemic, this so-called Conservative regime has put in place rules and regulations without any debate or scrutiny that have taken us several long strides down the road to dictatorship.

Defying a growing body of medical opinion that the threat of coronavirus is confined to certain identifiable at risk groups, and poses negligible dangers to the rest of us, the Westminster fools have junked centuries of hard fought for freedoms and put in place networks of repression – ranging from paid Stasi-style narks, to encouraging us to snitch on our neighbours – that would have shamed the rulers of East Germany.

When Britain’s leading jurist, retired Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption, accuses the government of wantonly demolishing age old civil liberties and admits that he himself is ignoring the more outrageous Covid rules, the rest of us really should be sitting up and taking notice. A mere recitation of what Whitehall has done over the past six months shows why alarm bells should be not just ringing but deafening all of us who hold our fragile freedoms dear.

Dictated by dubious “science” and by its own sheer panic, the Government has locked us in our homes, stopped us from meeting friends and family, laid down where and when we take our holidays, restricted us going to pubs, restaurants, cinemas, galleries and concerts, ruined weddings and forbidden funerals, smothered us in masks, halted the education of our children, interfered with our love lives, closed churches, and even threatened to cancel Christmas.

These measures are the greatest attack on the liberties of Britons since Cromwell’s Commonwealth

Taken together, these measures amount to the greatest attack on the lives and liberties of Britons since the Cromwellian Commonwealth. Even during two world wars when the nation faced a real existential threat, the government balked at treating us like criminals or children. And the fact that the only opposition to such insanity so far comes from a few courageous and contrarian journalists such as Peter Hitchens, Toby Young and James Delingpole is a worrying sign that the British public has become a docile flock of “sheeple” who have lost their love of liberty. So, has the time come for the substantial minority – some 20% according to polls – who do not accept that we have to destroy our economy and strangle our society in pursuit of the impossible goal of eliminating a virus to act rather than just grumble?

The only way to prevent the Government from instigating a second lockdown would be a clear demonstration of mass opposition. This could and should be touched off by public declarations from leading figures in society that they refuse to obey the irrational diktats of a discredited and despised government and are prepared to take the legal consequences – fines or imprisonment – for doing so. For when a government defies common sense and flouts the common law, the common people it purports to govern have a right to break it too.

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