Dan Wootton: We're free - but the fight for our liberties is not over

Boris Johnson has promised to tear up England’s coronavirus regulations despite warning it is “very far from the end” of the Covid-19 pandemic

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We’re free!

Sort of.

But for how long?

I really want to celebrate today’s confirmation of the new Freedom Day by Boris Johnson on July 19. And some of the language from the PM about what’s become known as his “big bang” reopening in the middle of summer was certainly positive.

Let’s start with the good news.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street

All social distancing limits will be gone two weeks today, barring some sort of last-minute win by paranoid scientists.

That means nightclubs can reopen, music festivals can be hosted, we can attend concerts again and the deprived hospitality industry can finally operate at full capacity.

And having to sign in with QR codes everywhere we go, that’s over too.

The travel industry might just survive, with the government allowing fully vaccinated Brits to head to amber list countries without the mandatory at home quarantine period.

The maddening requirement to send every kid in a bubble home from school looks set to go too. In theory, life should be as close as it has been to February 2020 since our first national lockdown.

But there was real reason for caution today. too.

Boris said it will no longer be necessary for the government to tell people to work from home. But that’s a long way from telling workers to return to the office quick smart and let our cities get back to business.

While government sanctioned vaccine passports for events have been ruled out, Boris made it clear private businesses can immediately set them up using the NHS app. In fact, he almost seemed to be encouraging that. So the reality that it might be impossible to attend a concert or a premier league match or even go to your favourite nightclub without showing your health papers to the organisers has come ever closer.

Then we need to talk about masks.

Officially they are axed by the government. But in all the discussion it’s clear their spectre will loom large over public life for some time. Chris Whitty said masks are to protect other people and outlined three circumstances where he would continue to wear a mask.

I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.

If you are double vaccinated or bursting with natural Covid antibodies or have recently tested negative, then you don’t need to protect anyone from anything.

It’s this sort of language that will keep our nation muzzled and terrified.

But the once bombastic Prime Minister was hardly encouraging a bonfire of masks, either. Saying he wanted to "move away from universal Government diktat to relying on people's personal responsibility".

Sturgeon’s Scottish government has already decided masks will stay part of life there after Scotland’s late Freedom Day on August the 9th.

And predictably Keir Starmer immediately demanded masks stay in England too.

But the biggest concern of all today was that this apparently irreversible return of our freedoms – the so-called end of the roadmap – could end up being simply a summer reprieve. Boris made clear that he reserves the right to reintroduce measures over the winter.

The only way society can return to full normality is if we maintain confidence that normality is not fleeting. Normality and freedom must be permanent.

So while I cautiously welcome the delayed Freedom Day, I don’t believe the fight for our liberties is over yet. Not even close.