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Tory MPs plot rebellion over renewal of emergency Covid laws

The Guardian logo The Guardian 20/09/2020 Heather Stewart Political editor
Graham Brady wearing a suit and tie: Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Conservative MPs irked by the government’s sweeping lockdown measures are plotting a rebellion when emergency Covid legislation is renewed this month, led by the party grandee Sir Graham Brady.

Many Tories have publicly expressed their frustration at aspects of the restrictions. Some are also concerned the emergency law passed six months ago leaves too much power in the hands of ministers.

There is also irritation at policy being announced in late-night briefings to journalists instead of in the House of Commons. Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, recently threatened to run the health secretary, Matt Hancock, “ragged” if he persisted in making announcements to the press instead of MPs.

Brady told the Sunday Telegraph: “In March, parliament gave the government sweeping emergency powers at a time when parliament was about to go into recess and there was realistic concern that NHS care capacity might be overwhelmed by Covid-19.

“We now know that the NHS coped well with the challenge of the virus and parliament has been sitting largely since April. There is now no justification for ministers ruling by emergency powers without reference to normal democratic processes.

“It is essential that going forward all of these massively important decisions for family life, and affecting people’s jobs and businesses, should be exercised with proper supervision and control.”


Video: "Keir Starmer says Government made mistakes in coronavirus response" (The Independent)

Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, plans to try to amend the legislation to allow a parliamentary vote each time new emergency powers are used, or restrictions introduced.

His intervention is a sign of the scale of disquiet among Boris Johnson’s backbenchers about the way he is handling the pandemic.

Some Conservative MPs, such as Desmond Swayne of New Forest West, are concerned the government’s restrictions are too draconian. Swayne has complained that rules on face coverings were imposed without “the democratic legitimate right to ask you the counter case and vote upon it in parliament”.

Others have expressed doubts about the “rule of six”, though government sources said this was imposed through pre-existing public health law without requiring powers in the coronavirus Act.

The six-month review of the Covid-19 legislation was agreed to by the government in March amid pressure from Labour and some backbench Conservatives. The lawcontained a wide range of powers, from allowing ministers to limit the size of social gatherings to permitting funeral directors to register deaths where relatives were unable to do so.

It is unclear whether Labour is planning to support the wholesale renewal of the legislation or back Brady’s amendment.

Stay alert to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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