After a year spent under house-arrest, and with dictatorship now well established as the new form of government, Pissed-off Toff fantasises increasingly often about leaving this country. There’s just one problem: you’re not allowed to.
Ever since we were deprived of our basic freedoms a year ago, I have struggled with the quicksands of the ‘lockdown’ regulations. Nor am I alone. “Even for a specialist human rights lawyer,” said a barrister friend of mine, “it’s impossible to keep up” … this with reference not just to the almost daily changes in the regulations, but also to their difficulty of interpretation and general ambiguity; an ambiguity which, he suggested, is quite intentional on the part of the government, and which is happily exploited by the police, eager as always to extend their power. “For normal people,” concluded my legal friend, “these laws are beyond comprehension.”
Nevertheless, I thought, if after a year of this accursed ‘lockdown’ I wanted a break from life in the concentation camp which London has become, I could, surely, escape to visit friends abroad. But no. Having read the 27-page document which is the most recent statement of government restrictions, I realised that it is now against the law to leave this country, except in the most limited circumstances. It took a while for the information to sink in … but as far as I know, this is the first time in our island history that a man cannot leave these shores if he so wishes.
Not only; because even in the strictly limited circumstances in which we are still allowed to go abroad, the regulatory costs of doing so – all imposed by the government – have become prohibitive; and no doubt intentionally so. Take the recent experiences of a friend of mine.
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Alex is a musician of international renown whose livelihood – concerts, festivals and teaching – has been destroyed by the government’s lockdown regulations. From time to time he still flies abroad for much reduced work purposes. But the costs and logistics of his trips are now punitive.
To leave the UK, he explained, you have to have a special virus test which is valid for flying. This is signed by a doctor and costs £160. Without this test – the free ones are not valid for this purpose – you will not be let on to the aeroplane.
You must also prove that you are travelling for a ‘permitted’ purpose. Last time Alex went to Gatwick, on his outward journey, he saw only a handful of passengers in the entire airport, heavily outnumbered by police carrying machine guns. Before he went through security, one of these policeman asked him why he was travelling. “For work,” he replied. “Can you prove that?” asked the para-military copper. And Alex produced a letter from the director of the orchestra with which he was due to perform. What, I wonder, would have happened if he had had no such proof? Would he have been sent home?
As for the return journey, before re-entering the UK, you must first get a virus test in the country from which you are departing. This might or might not be free. Before departure, you must also fill in an on-line ‘Passenger Locator Form’ for the UK authorities, and as part of this process you must purchase a self-testing kit, at a cost of £210, which will be sent to your home in the UK, and which you must use to test yourself on days 2 and 8 after your return. Barely able to believe this, I looked up the relevant government form, and it’s true: the unavoidable administrative cost of returning to this country is £210.
Furthermore, and independently of all the above, on entering UK from any foreign country, you must ‘self-isolate’ for ten days; but if after five days you test negative in a separate optional test that costs £150 – and which bears the chilling name of ‘Test to Release’ – your ‘self-isolation’ ends; and either way, you still have to do the 8-day test, as part of the re-entry proceedure.
Let’s tot up these government-imposed medico-bureaucratic costs, shall we? Medical certificate to leave the country: £160. Self-test kit to get back in: £210. Then, if you can’t face the prospect of ten days of ‘self-isolation’ following your return, a further £150 for early ‘release’. Total cost for one person: well over £500 … and that’s just the cost in money terms, not to mention the very considerable time and bother and general stress involved.
And if – God forbid – you are arriving in the UK from a so-called ‘red list’ country, you descend still further into the pit of hell, and are obliged by law to ‘self-isolate’ for ten days in an approved ‘hotel’ (prison, to you and me), where you will be under constant surveillance. For the privilege of being held hostage for these ten days, you must pay £1,750. It hardly bears thinking about.
The only possible conclusion is that in the name of ‘safety’, and in the cause of grinding us down into total obedience, the government is deliberately making travel to and from the UK all but impossible; not just financially, but also bureaucratically.
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Now that you cannot leave Gulag UK to go abroad, how about a short escape to the country? Again, that is forbidden. Again, I struggled to believe it when I finally got round to reading the government’s 27-page on-line document outlining its ‘lockdown’ regulations.
“You must stay at home, leaving only where permitted by law,” it says on page 2. In other words, everything is forbidden unless we say so. And: “You must not leave or be outside of your home [sic] except where you have a reasonable excuse,” we learn on page 6. An admonition which comes with the following happy note: “You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.”
This is the stuff of a totalitarian nightmare. Yet still most people seem unaware of what has happened; unaware that we are all now prisoners. Take the case of two young women I heard about. Based in London, they wished to go to Suffolk to see a new-born baby to which they had both been asked to be godmothers. A ‘life-event’, you might think, like a marriage or a funeral; and they imagined that such a journey was surely ‘permitted’.
But no. As they prepared to go through the ticket barriers at Liverpool Street station to board their train, they were stopped by a group of policemen, all in para-military gear and all carrying machine guns, their attitude overtly hostile. Both girls were fined £200 and ordered to go home.
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All of which brings us back to what for me is the central mystery of this coronavirus scare. Namely: that we have turned, overnight, into a police state, yet almost no-one seems particularly bothered. Whenever I voice my concerns, the standard responses, always delivered with a shrug of the shoulders, are either “I just try to ignore it” or “We’ll be back to normal soon.”
Both responses are profoundly wrongheaded.
Take the “I just try to ignore it” response. I know a young City executive who, like many of his friends, routinely breaks the regulations but who has so far got away with it. Since he has succeeded in getting round the law, he is not overly concerned by what it says. When I suggested to him that the issue is not whether he can get the better of police-state regulations, but that the regulations should not be there in the first place, it was clear that he thought me woefully unrelaxed; and he dismissed my remonstrations with the second standard response: “It’ll all be over soon.”
Imagine a husband who takes to beating up his wife on a regular basis; just as the government has taken to locking us up and fining us at will. “I’m frightfully sorry, darling,” says the husband-turned-wife-beater, after a while. “I haven’t been myself, recently. I’ll stop now, and let’s get back to normal. OK?”
No. Not OK. After such events, there can be no returning to normal. The damage is done and can never be undone. Just as when, after 70-odd years of Soviet oppression, Gorbachov suggested to his people that the state might from now on behave a little better towards its serfs and that the past would be forgotten. But it was too late.
Let a voice more august than mine make the point: I refer to the concluding passages of the Cambridge Freshfields Annual Law Lecture, delivered by the law-lord Jonathan Sumption in October of last year.
“The British public has not even begun to understand the seriousness of what is happening to our country,” he told his audience (my italics). “Many – perhaps most of them – don’t care, and won’t care until it is too late.” We are now seeing “a more authoritarian model of politics which will outlast the present crisis,” he continued … “a radical and lasting transformation of the relationship between the state and the citizen. With it will come an equally fundamental change in our relations with each other; a change characterised by distrust, resentment and mutual hostility.” And to conclude: we can now look forward to “an authoritarian reality which we will like a great deal less” than what went before it.
Can there be any doubt that Lord Sumption is right? Now that our megalomaniac and half-criminal government has discovered that it can so easily take away our liberties, and now that the police have got used to persecuting us and fining us at will (and oh! what fun they are having); now that this has happened, will our new oppressors give up their gains? I don’t think so.
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It is clear to me that socially, politically, economically, financially, industrially … morally, even … it is quite clear to me that this country is doomed, and that our real troubles have only just begun. Because as I never tire of pointing out, not only has this insane ‘lockdown’ established despotism as the new form of government, and not only has it taken us very far down the road to bankruptcy; but if and when it is over, the government is determined to continue its pursuit of a ‘carbon-neutral’ agenda of the most extreme sort that will reduce us all to beggary. One way or another, we’re done for.
So I’d advise any young person to leave as soon as possible and to start again, preferably in South America. Between one stiff G&T and another, I too have been fantasising about emigrating, even at this late stage. However, among the various problems associated with this increasingly attractive idea is the fact that emigration is not on the list of ‘permitted’ reasons for leaving our island prison. When I turn up at the airport, suitcase in hand, might the Stasi perhaps take pity on a miserable wretch?