‘It isn’t very British’: MPs divided over government call to snoop on coronavirus rule-breaching neighbours

Matt Hancock appears on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday

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A call from the government to snoop on your neighbours and report them to the police over coronavirus rule-breaking has been met with mixed reactions from the nation’s politicians — with some division even among Conservative MPs on the policy.

Just days after the prime minister himself spoke out against “sneak culture”, health secretary Matt Hancock urged the nation to call law enforcement if they witnessed people refusing to self-isolate — a move that now carries a potential fine of up to £10,000.

Asked on Times Radio if the public should tell the authorities about those who have been told to remain at home flouting the rules, Mr Hancock said: “Yes, because if you think about it, the number of people asked to self-isolate as a proportion of the population as a whole is relatively small and it’s so important.

“These are people who have been in close contact with somebody who had a positive result or themselves have had a positive test.”

And asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr he himself would snitch on a neighbour in such a manner, he said: “Yes. And for the self-isolation part, that is absolutely necessary because that is how we break the chains of transmission.”

Any social gathering of more than six people in England is now against the law, with people facing fines of up to £3,200 if they do not abide by the new measure, which applies to both indoor and outdoor settings.

And anyone in England who refuses an order to self-isolate could face a fine of up to £10,000, the Government has said.

However views among Conservative party figures — including Boris Johnson — remain mixed on the call for the nation to be ready to dial in potential rule-breakers.

Boris Johnson said last week  he would understand reporting a “huge kind of Animal House” party with “hot tubs and so forth” where it was clear there was a “serious threat to public health” — but added: “I have never much been in favour of sneak culture, myself.”

Meanwhile Tory MP Mark Harper said the idea of calling in law enforcement on neighbours did not chime with his perception of the UK’s national identity.

“I’d rather talk to them first and try explaining why self-isolation matters”, he wrote on Twitter.

“Taking the public with you is how democracies deal with these challenges. This ‘call the police first’ approach isn’t very British”.

Earlier in the week calls for the police to be informed of groups of more than six people mingling drew consternation from Labour MPs, with Wes Streeting bemoaning the lack of support offered to forces while adding: “Priti Patel and her curtain-twitching colleagues are on a different planet”.

However responding to the most recent call to action promoted by the government, leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer said wether or not he would call in law enforcement would be a matter of circumstance.

“I don’t think we’re a nation that wants to go around reporting our neighbours all the time.” He said, adding “It depends on the circumstance —if someone is repeatedly flouting the rules then I think all of us would want to do something about it”.

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