Introducing further Covid restrictions without Parliament’s direct approval would “not be acceptable”, a group of senior MPs has told Boris Johnson.
The Commons Liaison Committee says it is concerned about the continued use of emergency powers to curb freedoms.
The government is already under pressure from some Tory MPs, who want to be given a vote before any new national measures are brought in.
Ministers say they are trying to protect lives amid rising infections.
Local lockdowns and tighter restrictions have often been imposed at the request of local leaders.
Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, has been holding talks with Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg over a possible “compromise” on Parliamentary oversight, ahead of a debate on the government’s coronavirus powers later.
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BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg said no resolution had been reached between the government and the Tory rebels on Tuesday night.
But a further meeting between Conservative MP Steve Baker, a critic of the government’s approach, and Chief Whip Mark Spencer is due to take place on Wednesday, she added.
BBC Newsnight political editor Nick Watt said it looked as though progress was being made towards an agreement that would allow MPs to vote on new restrictions outside of an emergency.
He said MPs could possibly be given a retrospective vote after any new national restrictions were introduced.
“What that would mean is that restrictions would be made into law by a minister, but then you would set a future commencement date – and in between those two dates, MPs would have a vote,” he said.
The government is facing growing calls for more Parliamentary scrutiny of its Covid policies, amid concerns that recent interventions, such as the “rule of six” limit on social gatherings, the 22:00 BST closing time for pubs and local restrictions in the North East, have been announced with a few hours’ notice and without being considered by MPs.
“He’s making it too easy.”
The prime minister rather made the case for some of the malcontents in his own party today, as one of the key rebels joked.
One of the organisers behind backbench moves for more of a say over how the government is handling the pandemic claimed that Boris Johnson’s North East coronavirus restrictions blunder underlined their contention – the rules are too complicated, too arbitrary, and haven’t been put through the normal grinder of political logic.
Mr Johnson said sorry for getting it wrong shortly after he “misspoke” (political speak for getting it wrong), but it gave more immediate ammunition to the opposition too, who accused the prime minister of “gross incompetence”.
It seems unlikely that his comments are going to help the public’s sense that the rules are clear, firm, and important to follow.
Later, the Commons will vote on whether to renew coronavirus legislation passed at the start of the pandemic, which gives the government sweeping powers to act, amid talk of a possible rebellion by Tory MPs.
Sir Graham has warned that the government is increasingly “ruling by decree” and multiple restrictions across different parts of England are causing confusion and potential long-term economic damage.
He wants a commitment from ministers that future regulations affecting the whole of England or the UK can only be introduced if Parliament has the opportunity to debate and vote on them in advance.
However, it is not clear whether his amendment, which reportedly has the backing of dozens of Conservatives, will be selected to be put to a vote by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
The Liaison Committee, made up of MPs who chair Commons select committees, has added to the growing pressure on the PM by urging him to accept a “suitable amendment” to the legislation before Wednesday’s debate on it.
In a letter to the PM, the committee’s Conservative chairman Bernard Jenkin said there had been “minimal scrutiny” of March’s Coronavirus Act and there was growing concern about the government’s ability to “apply the most exceptional restrictions on individuals and families, with severe consequences for their livelihoods and quality of life”.
“At the outset of the crisis, such measures without Parliamentary scrutiny or control were more acceptable than now,” he wrote.
“The idea that such restrictions can be applied without express Parliamentary approval, except in dire emergency, is not widely acceptable and indeed may be challenged in law.
“Various proposals are being made that would require the approval by a vote of the House of Commons before or immediately after new restrictions come into force.
“The majority of us support this principle and expect that the government will also wish to accept it.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the government is looking at further ways the Commons can be “properly involved in the process in advance where possible”.
In other key developments:
- New coronavirus restrictions have come into force across the north east of England, with people no longer allowed to meet other households indoors – and discouraged from doing so outdoors.
- Four council areas in north Wales will enter local lockdowns from Thursday evening, affecting half a million people. They are Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, and Wrexham.
- The prime minister is due to hold a press conference with England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on Wednesday afternoon. Downing Street said it was not intended to give a “specific set of new announcements”.
- A further 7,143 cases and 71 Covid-related deaths were announced in the UK on Tuesday. That is the highest number of confirmed cases recorded in a day, but testing capacity has increased significantly since the spring, when many cases went unreported.
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