Southend MP calls plans to make masks mandatory an ‘infringement on civil liberties’

A Southend MP has called government plans to fine people £100 for not wearing masks in shops an infringement of civil liberties and admitted it will be difficult to enforce.

Face masks will be made mandatory in shops across England from July 24 and anyone caught without one can be fined up to £100.

Enforcement will be entirely down to the police, although the Government has said shops will be expected to play a part.

Conservative Southend West MP Sir David Amess called the move a “huge infringement of people’s civil liberties” and said it should be left to the community to stop the spread of the virus.

Sir David said: “Ever since the pandemic started the government has consistently said that they are following scientific advice.

“It would appear that the scientists have now advised the government that this is the right time for people to wear face masks in shops.

“Whilst many people are already choosing to wear face masks, it is obviously a huge infringement of people’s civil liberties.

“I believe it will be difficult to enforce and must be left to people’s common sense and the community spirit to try and stop the spread of infection and save lives.”

His comments come as Conservative activists have rebelled against the government’s plans, posting pictures on social media of their cut-up Conservative membership cards stating they are now “politically homeless”.

However, Westminster’s reluctance to make masks mandatory has left England trailing behind many other countries including Germany, Austria, Turkey, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

In June, the World Health Organization changed its advice on face masks, saying they should be worn in public where social distancing is not possible.

Southend Council’s deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley (Ind), said he believes making masks mandatory is the right thing to do but was also uncertain how it can be enforced.

He said: “Scotland have already been doing it for a while and you do think why haven’t we?

“I think we keep just following the curve of this virus and we are not getting in front of it.

“I do think this is the right thing to do but I don’t know if shops will say you can’t enter without a mask because they need the business right now.

“Only the police can enforce this unless the government gives some power to local authorities but even then, I don’t think we would have sufficient resources.

“You have to say to people it is best you wear a mask so you don’t have the threat of £100 fine over your head.

“When lockdown started people obeyed lockdown and I think people will obey the advice of government.

“People who don’t will be looked at and they will feel be made to feel uncomfortable.

“But to say police will enforce and people will get £100 fine – we just haven’t got enough police to do that.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter