1 November 2020
Sage believes its advice to be more like commandments written on stone

Sir Iain Duncan Smith writes for the Sunday Telegraph

The PM's announcement of a month-long lockdown is a body blow to the British people. Just as the economy was picking up, even giving cause for optimism, we are now to impersonate the Grand Old Duke of York - giving in to the scientific advisers and marching England back into another nationwide lockdown.

The way that the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has pressurised the Government into taking this decision has been unprecedented.

Normally, advisers advise and ministers decide. Yet that system has broken down with Sage believing its advice to be more like commandments written on stone and its members publicly lecturing the Government over the airways when it disagrees.

This is despite the fact that many of its recommendations have been hotly disputed by other reputable scientists.

Dr David Nabarro, a WHO special envoy for Covid-19, has said, "We in the WHO do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus ... we really do appeal to all world leaders: stop using lockdown as your primary control method."

Let us be very clear. There has been much talk of circuit breakers, but what was announced on Saturday night was a business breaker. Nor is it likely to be limited to what four weeks.

You can imagine how nervous ministers will be to defy Sage when they suck their teeth in early December and call for more time. The first lockdown, if you recall, was meant to last only a few weeks.

For the scientific advisers, all of this may seem very simple. It is their primary job, after all, to advise on how to minimise the number of deaths from Covid-19. But not even they can afford to ignore the fact that the collapsing economy isn't just about money but about health and well-being, too.

Many more will now die of other diseases because of missing treatment. The looming lockdown will damage the prospects of the poorest the most.

My plea to Boris Johnson is simple: we cannot go on encouraging businesses to reopen only to force them to lock down again. The consequences of such a measure on the health of the economy are dire, and we need a strong economy to create the resources to fight Covid-19.

Now we really are running the risk that the recommended cure will end up killing the English patient.