Tory fury over the government’s “1984-style” coronavirus laws has reached fever pitch after more than 50 MPs joined a possible revolt.
The MPs from wide parts of Boris Johnson’s party, including ex-leader Iain Duncan Smith, have signed an amendment today that would give MPs more of a say on the blizzard of criminal laws rolling out across England.
They are angry that a range of restrictions – including £4,000 fines for “recklessly” leaving isolation and £1,000 fines for pub landlords who allow dancing – were rolled out without MPs being consulted, or even told.
Currently, coronavirus laws can be made by the government instantly under sweeping powers to control Covid-19.
That means they only have to be approved by MPs retrospectively, once they’re already in force.
Sir Graham Brady’s amendment would add a requirement to give Parliament “an opportunity to debate and to vote upon any secondary legislation with effect in the whole of England or the whole United Kingdom before it comes into effect.”
But the vote this afternoon might not happen if the amendment is ruled out of procedure by Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.
Whether it comes to a vote or not, No10 is locked in discussions with the rebels about a possible climbdown.
Former chief whip Mark Harper said up to 100 Conservative MPs could vote against the Government if they were to be given the opportunity.
“If there’s no compromise, and the Government doesn’t bring something forward, and there’s a vote on Sir Graham’s amendment, the Government will lose, I think that is certain, which is why I’m hopeful that there will be a compromise,” he told Times Radio.
“And for me, the bottom line, and I think for many colleagues, is this idea of having to get Parliament’s approval in advance, not afterwards.”
One of the Tory rebels, Peter Bone, told the BBC “I have no idea” what the rules are because MPs have no involvement.
The MP said the government was behaving in an “incredible” way by rushing out laws without putting them through parliament first.
Tory MP Steve Baker, who compared the situation to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, said: “I don’t want to be in the business of forcing the Government but what I would say is this is a fork in the road.
“Either later today we will face a reasonable offer which we can accept, back down – and gladly – or we will end up that these members of parliament are not going to go away and we will keep battling on, as I say, with a fierce resolve to preserve the institutions of which we are proud of and which we wish to defend in the public interest.”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma hinted concessions could be on their way.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What colleagues are asking for is if there is some way, prior to decisions being made, whether they can be involved and I know that is something that we are looking at in Government and we will come forward with some suggestions.”
During a visit to Devon on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “We’ve all basically got to work together and follow the guidance.
“That’s what I respectfully say to my colleagues in Parliament and they will, as I know they all want, have an opportunity to talk about these issues, to debate them properly, and discuss them as parliamentarians should.”
The rebels’ anger increased after Boris Johnson himself mangled the definition of the laws on live TV yesterday.
But shameless Business Secretary Alok Sharma today claimed it was unfair to ask the Prime Minister about the law of the land.
Mr Sharma told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is an element of slightly ‘gotcha’ about this in terms of this line of questioning.
“You are a flagship programme when it comes to serious news – it is not a quiz show.”
Alex Norris, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, said: “The Prime Minister should understand the rules he is asking huge numbers of people to follow.
“That’s not a gotcha, that’s just basic Government competence.”