The Corner

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Former Supreme Court Justice Warns of a British ‘Police State’

It’s well-known that individual liberty is more fragile in Europe than in America, with or without a pandemic. In France, citizens have to fill out paperwork to be permitted outside. In the U.K., local police forces have interpreted government restrictions to prohibit even outdoor exercise. Derbyshire Police have used drones to identify and shame dog-walkers and dyed a picturesque blue lagoon black in an attempt to deter visitors. Other police forces are encouraging people to report on those who break the rules. Jonathan Sumption, a former U.K. Supreme Court justice, has been among those to express concerns. He said the actions of Derbyshire police were “frankly disgraceful” and told the BBC that the U.K. was in danger of becoming like a “police state.” He said:

When human societies lose their freedom, it’s not usually because tyrants have taken it away. It’s usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection against some external threat. And the threat is usually a real threat but usually exaggerated. That’s what I fear we are seeing now. The pressure on politicians has come from the public. They want action. They don’t pause to ask whether the action will work. They don’t ask themselves whether the cost will be worth paying. . . The symptoms of coronavirus are clearly serious for those with other significant medical conditions, especially if they’re old. There are exceptional cases in which young people have been struck down, which have had a lot of publicity, but the numbers are pretty small. The Italian evidence, for instance, suggests that only in 12 per cent of deaths is it possible to say coronavirus was the main cause of death. So yes this is serious and yes it’s understandable that people cry out to the government. But the real question is: is this serious enough to warrant putting most of our population into house imprisonment, wrecking our economy for an indefinite period, destroying businesses that honest and hardworking people have taken years to build up, saddling future generations with debt, depression, stress, heart attacks, suicides and unbelievable distress inflicted on millions of people who are not especially vulnerable and will suffer only mild symptoms or none at all, like the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister.

Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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