More than 40 MPs are reported to be ready to back a move led by senior backbencher Sir Graham Brady to try to force Commons votes on new Covid restrictions “as soon as reasonably practicable.” Labour sources also indicated that Sir Keir Starmer was likely to lead his MPs back a rebel amendment tabled by Sir Graham in the hope of wiping out the Prime Minister’s 80-seat Commons majority.
But Mr Johnson’s allies insisted the Government will win the vote set for next Wednesday to renew the emergency powers for another six months.
One Cabinet minister told the Daily Express: “It doesn’t look like the rebels have really got the numbers to defeat the Government. There is a lot of noise about this but there are not that many MPs who are clear they will actually rebel when it comes to the vote.”
The minister added: “We need to keep the emergency powers to be able to respond quickly to this fast-moving pandemic.”
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Sir Bob Neill and former Brexit secretary David Davis are among Tory MPs who have signed Sir Graham’s amendment.
Boris Johnson is said to be confident of defeating the rebellion
Boris Johnson’s allies have described rebels of making ‘a lot of noise’ without substance
DUP MPs and the chairman of the Labour parliamentary party John Cryer are also supporting the move.
A Downing Street spokesman indicated the Government was not willing to compromise on the issue.
“We’ve been clear throughout that it’s rightful we can take action to stop the transmission of the virus and protect the NHS.
“Both houses have the opportunity to debate and scrutinise all lockdown regulations,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Support appears to be growing for the amendment.
Senior backbenchers Tom Tugendhat, Huw Merriman and David Jones all voiced support for the amendment.
Graham Brady has put forward the contentious coronavirus amendment
Tom Tugendhat, an influential Tory, has backed the amendment
Mr Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “You can give various blanket permissions in emergency ways but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to come and ask for permission as soon as is practical.
“It’s quite clear that there’s at least another six months of it as the Government has announced and it may indeed be longer than that depending on whether a vaccine comes or not, so the idea that we can have a permanent state where the Government is making emergency decisions for people and effectively controlling the lives of 65 million people by fiat is not sustainable.”
Tory peers also hit out at the Government over parliamentary scrutiny for coronavirus measures.
Former Tory Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth of Drumlean told the House of Lords: “These powers are being exercised by regulations which are being made using the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act.
“This gives the Government the power to restrict the movements of people who are believed to be infectious and to close infected premises only.
“As far as I can see, it does not provide for the control of people who are not infected or to close uncontaminated premises.
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“Now if the Government wants to exercise controls of this kind over people who are not infected, it has the power to do so using the Civil Contingencies Act.
“But quite properly that legislation requires the consent of Parliament is obtained within seven days of any regulation and is renewed every 30 days.”
He added: “Has the Government used the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act improperly in order to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and created today’s farce where we are debating regulations that were made seven weeks ago which are already superseded?”
Responding for the Government, health minister Lord Bethell said: “The Civil Contingencies Act is expressly concerned with threats that we could not have expected and unfortunately we’re at a stage with this epidemic, and even at the very beginning of this epidemic, where the lawyers judged that this kind of regulation does not fit under this regulation and that is why we work through the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act.”
Tory peer Baroness Altmann, the former director-general of the Saga Group, questioned the Prime Minister’s so-called “whack-a-mole” approach.
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She added: “What is the endgame? Will we continue to lock people down, rejoice at reducing infections, relax draconian restrictions, allow people to see their friends and loved ones again without risking arrest – I can hardly believe I’m saying this – and then what?
“The virus has not disappeared. Does this whack-a-mole strategy just start again? Parliament should be able to judge the data.
“What is the risk to life of a Covid infection relative to the risk to life of missed cancer treatments, mental breakdown, stroke, heart failure, all of which lockdown worsens?”
Concluding, Lord Bethell said: “We recognise the effect of the impact of these regulations, but it is the virus that is the cause of this, it is not the Government’s fault that we have to bring in these regulations to slow down the spread of the virus.”