The West Country Debate April: Lockdown lifts, local elections and tributes to The Duke of Edinburgh

  • Watch April's edition of The West Country Debate in full

The past week has been one of mixed emotions - as people mourn the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, businesses breathe a sigh of relief as lockdown restrictions loosen again.

Unessential retail has welcomed back customers, outdoor dining and beer gardens are buzzing again and gyms are being used to stretch out some pretty stiff muscles.

MPs across the political spectrum are united in their appreciation of the country slowly opening up, with cases continuing to level out after the roadmap began last month.

Cases in the region have fallen massively since the beginning of the year.

However Labour MP for Bristol South Karin Smyth has said the length of lockdown was down to government error.

Anthony Mangnall, Conservative MP for Totnes said the scenes of reopening are great for the country but precautions must be in place at all times as concerns have been raised about an influx of tourists to the South West.

Now the public has a taste of freedom, questions are being raised about how the government can go about dropping more rules without compromising safety.

So-called 'vaccine passports' have been a topic of discussion since the vaccines were in their trial stages, but they have been dividing opinion within political parties.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said they may well be necessary at some stage to allow more extensive foreign travel and to open up more businesses which don't currently have the facilities to operate safely.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer have both visited the West Country in recent weeks.

However, leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer has branded the use of the passports as 'un-British', and more than 70 MPs from across the political spectrum signed a pledge against them.

One of those was Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall, who said the 'two-tier system' would be unfair, especially towards young people.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Bath has voiced similar concerns, and has said the passports would be discriminatory towards those who cannot receive the vaccine for a multitude of reasons.

Wera Hobhouse also raised the issue of practicality around the passports for the businesses who would be likely to use them.

She said "Looking at the practicalities of it a lot of businesses have indicated that they wouldn't really know how to do it".

Labour MP for Bristol South Karin Smyth said the passports were a 'nice idea' but not a practical option in the time scale they would need to be developed.

One of the advantages of lockdown easing that hasn't received as much coverage as pubs or gyms is the ability of small groups to begin campaigning again - and with local elections right around the corner it is a welcome change for parties.

All adults in the region have at least one vote to cast, that's in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, but with local councils, metro mayor and Bristol mayor ballots on the table some people have up to four crosses to mark.

South West politicians from the four big parties in our region have been reinforcing the importance of local-level elections and pushing to win over voters.

This afternoon Boris Johnson was present at Dartmouth Naval College's passing out parade, the Devon grounds where the late Prince Philip's naval career was forged and where he met the Queen for the first time.

The Duke had a monumental and long-lasting effect on the West Country, with local MPs paying tribute to his memory in the House of Commons this week.

Anthony Mangnall's constituency covers the historic college and he says Prince Philip has been an icon in the area since before becoming the Queen's consort.

With a legacy as strong as Prince Philip's there are calls to rename Dartmouth Naval College in tribute to him, with others suggesting there should be a return of the Royal Yacht in his honour.

Karin Smyth joined in praise of the Duke's achievements, but said that the yacht was a thing of its time and we must now look to the future for ways to commemorate him.