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Rebel Tory MPs threatened to vote against the renewal of emergency coronavirus powers today amid a growing backlash against new measures branded as “intrusive” and “ridiculous”.
In a fresh twist to the major revolt facing Boris Johnson, a senior Conservative said that if MPs were denied a chance to give Parliament more say over the use of draconian new powers, they would stage a protest vote against the powers themselves.
The Tory uprising at Westminster was mirrored by furious protests from Labour mayors in the north of England, who claimed emergency measures to stop people meeting friends in pubs had been imposed without adequate notice.
The Prime Minister was expected to offer an olive branch today, with speculation at Westminster that he will promise to hold votes in Parliament whenever new powers are put into law.
However, it was not clear if he would allow MPs to make amendments to measures such as the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants, which many MPs were citing as a heavy-handed mistake.
Embarrassingly, a minister was unable to explain how the new law banning meeting in pubs across a swathe of the North-East would work.
Asked if people were allowed to meet friends from another household in a pub garden, skills minister Gillian Keegan replied: “I’m sorry I can’t clarify that. I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m sure they can find out the answer to that question.”
Labour’s shadow health minister Alex Norris commented: “It speaks volumes that even the Government’s own ministers don’t know what’s going on. This will do little to inspire public confidence.”
The number of Conservatives backing Sir Graham Brady’s amendment calling for Parliament to debate and vote on new measures swelled to 55, more than enough to smash the Prime Minister’s Commons majority of 80.
However, parliamentary authorities do not believe Speaker Lindsay Hoyle will put it to a vote because the main motion is “unamendable” under the Commons rulebook.
Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne said that if the amendment was not put to a vote, “many” MPs would vent their frustration by voting against the main motion tomorrow, which is to renew the Coronavirus Act 2020 powers.
“If there isn’t a vote on the amendment and there isn’t a satisfactory response from the Government to the demands of the amendment, many people will vote against a renewal of the Act,” he told Today.
Sir Desmond said the Act would not be overturned. “When I say many, there will be a number, but certainly the Government isn’t going to be defeated.”
He lambasted the way complex powers were being used. “I think these intrusions into our individual liberty, into our family life, into our private lives, should be determined in Parliament and not by government fiat,” he said.
“I really doubt that closing pubs and restaurants at 10pm is going to make the slightest difference.”
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, another rebel, said: “These are severe measures affecting their liberties. It’s essential that Parliament has a greater say.”
He said the pubs curfew was “a blunt instrument which could have been much more subtle” and added: “With parliamentary scrutiny and more people inputting into policy, we might have struck a better strategic balance.”
Steve Baker, one of the ringleaders, said the scope and complexity of the emergency powers was unprecedented. “Our police have a tough enough job as it is,” he wrote on ConservativeHome. “Now they would have to be highly trained lawyers perfectly to navigate the stack of statutory instruments they are now supposed to impose.”
Former home secretary Lord Howard said: “I am sympathetic to the Government. This is a totally unprecedented challenge and they are trying to balance a lot of conflicting advice. It’s all very well saying they have to come to Parliament, but this is a fast-moving situation and the Government needs to act.”
Professor Susan Michie, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has also criticised the 10pm deadline, saying: “The consequences of the curfew undermine the gains. The measure
is another example of a restriction brought in without a coherent strategy and without sufficient consultation with relevant experts and communities.”
Premier League clubs will push back on government demands to hand a multi-million-pound bailout to the stricken Football League unless fans are allowed to return to grounds.
The 20 top-flight shareholders were due to meet virtually this afternoon and present a united front against Whitehall pressure, after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the Premier League must “step up to the plate” by providing a financial lifeline to keep smaller clubs afloat.
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News – Furious backlash as new coronavirus measures branded ‘ridiculous’