State of emergency: Britain's casual descent into unfreedom

The pandemic led to quick laws that imposed unprecedented restrictions on our lives. This is worthy of investigation—which is what Adam Wagner delivers in his new book—even if you believed in the lockdowns
December 8, 2022
Emergency State: How We Lost Our Freedoms in the Pandemic and Why it Matters
Adam Wagner (RRP: £14.99)
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Perhaps the most surprising part of the UK government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was how little resistance that response encountered. Fuelled by fear of rising infection numbers and overworked intensive care units, everyone from MPs to the media to the public acquiesced in the creation of a law that locked down tens of millions of people and restricted our freedoms more comprehensively than any other piece of legislation in our history. 

In his book Emergency State, Adam Wagner subjects the process to minute examination. He explains how the legal framework existed not just for introducing 763 days’ worth of restrictions, but also for achieving this without effective scrutiny. He shows how steps were taken to sustain support for this new regime by the creation of a climate of fear. And he looks at how, in some cases, the regulations that were claimed to exist actually did not—and how, as a consequence, there were numerous instances of the police exceeding their powers and seeking to criminalise people behaving entirely lawfully.

Wagner does this all the more powerfully as his tone is dispassionate, and he does not seek to take sides on the necessity—or otherwise—of these draconian restrictions. But he does highlight the costs that flowed directly from this abdication of scrutiny and accountability by parliament. It led to concentrations of power that in turn led to corruption—and not just around the procurement of equipment. Exceptions were made for certain groups, including the very special interest group that was Number 10 itself, with its hard-partying ways.

You do not have to take the view that the lockdowns were unnecessary for this book to be valuable. Anyone with an interest in the maintenance of good governance in a time of emergency will find much to ponder.