Those of us who expressed concern at the scope, content and implications of the Coronavirus Act 2020 were often treated to this simple reply:
“It’s not a police state, the special powers only last for two years!”
This was widely reported in the media and became a go-to talking point for everyone interested in defending the Act.
But is it actually true?
Simply put: No. No it’s not.
Section 89 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 details just how many sections and sub-sections are not subject to the expiry clause. As well as all the “conditions” which, if met, would enable Ministers to waive the expiry clause on certain other sections and regulations.
The list is hugely long.
Sections 1, 2, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 17, 19(11), 21(7), 59-70, 72-74, 75(1) and 76. As well as parts of Schedules 1, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 10 through 13.
Fully one quarter (and possibly more) of the entire bill will never expire.
What do these excepted clauses cover?
With a possible vaccine speeding through the testing phase (or skipping it altogether) this could be important down the line.
Sections 59-70 cover the government’s power to postpone elections and are not subject to the expiry clause.
Section 75 totally removes the cap on government assistance to industry when that assistance is “coronavirus related”.
Section 76 simply says:
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are to have such functions as the Treasury may direct in relation to coronavirus or coronavirus disease.
Which is peculiarly vague. Whatever it means, it will never expire.
And hanging over all of that is section 89(3):
A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make transitional, transitory or saving provision in connection with the expiry of any provision of this Act.
…which seems to grant the government power to over-ride the expiry of any section of the act, should they deem it necessary.
So, to sum up, no these emergency measures won’t “expire in two years”.
Some of them might expire in 2 years (unless a minister decides they shouldn’t) and others will last forever.