Against the ‘rule of 6’ – or 8, or 10…

The prime minister has announced that it will be illegal to meet in groups of more than six people from Monday.

Many (including apparently most of the cabinet) have argued that children should be exempt, while others argued for a ceiling of eight people.

Yet there is a bigger problem with the state engineering of social life in this manner. Time after time, statutory instruments are issued specifying the exact combinations in which people may meet: two households, or up to 30 people, or support bubbles for single-adult households. It then becomes a criminal offence to go beyond the specifications of the latest requirement.

This current rule means that a family with three children can only meet one grandparent at a time. A family with four children would not be able to see the grandparents.

The law will make it even harder to hold political demonstrations or assemblies, which are already severely restricted by previous rules.

These statutory instruments are issued without voting by the House of Commons, and are sometimes not even published before they come into force (or only an hour or two beforehand). Right now, so far as we can see, the ‘rule of 6’ law has not been published (although guidance has been issued).

According to reports, it was a single cabinet minister – health secretary Matt Hancock – who supported the latest law; other ministers were against it. The police also wanted a simpler rule that would be easier to enforce and issue fines for.

This suggests that law is being issued on the wishes of a single minister, police chiefs, and perhaps scientific advisers. There is not even democracy within the cabinet, apparently, let alone any larger democratic chamber.

The British public is unable to even read the law to which they will be subject in a few days’ time.

What will this mean? Are we going to see the police busting into people’s homes on Sunday lunchtime to check there aren’t more than six people around the table? They would be within their rights to do so; by law, a crime is being committed.

But what kind of law is this? And what kind of democracy is this?

It is law made by decree, on the wishes of a single minister. It is a country where police, councils and government can ban any demo they like.

The question is not to argue about the exact specifications of the latest law on groups. We should call to an end to this dodgy business of endless decrees specifying the exact contours of social life.