MPs fearing assassinations pull their punches in blocking lockdowns

Ministers are working on a compromise with rebel Tory MPs who are incensed at new Covid-19 laws being put in place without parliamentary debate.

Government set to compromise with Tory rebels

The Government continues the fight to keep control over the Tory party as the row over the sidelining of Parliament rages on. The number of possible rebels is hovering somewhere near 100 MPs, which has forced No10 to try and negotiate a compromise.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the Commons, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and Mark Spencer, the Chief Whip met with leading rebels yesterday to try to reach an agreement. There are reports this morning that a deal is close, but a resolution still appears to be hanging in the balance.

– Letting them vote –

Right now, it seems that the Speaker is unlikely to select the rebels’ amendment to tomorrow’s motion renewing the Government’s emergency powers. Even then, the rebels would still be able to cause plenty of future trouble. Hence the desire for compromise.

One rumoured possibility is that the Commons will be given a vote on new measures a few days after they come in, another is to promise a vote on all measures except in an emergency.

The problem the Government faces is that while some of the rebels are genuinely concerned about Parliamentary oversight and sovereignty, many others seem less concerned with procedure than with the fact that they simply don’t like the coronavirus regulations or believe that most of them are unnecessary.

That makes it much harder for ministers to contemplate giving up the powers granted them to act quickly in response to the pandemic.

It’s one thing for MPs to question the efficacy of individual policies, for example the 10pm curfew, and quite another for every change to regulations to become a major debate about the Government’s overall strategy. That way lies the salami-slicing torture that did for Theresa May over Brexit.

Of course, it is down to rebel Tories that there is a space at all for debating the overall strategy. Downing Street compromised with them back in March by adding the six-month renewal of powers that is being debated right now.

– A lasting split –

Ultimately, this row is unlikely to go away any time soon. Take the latest infection figures, which show a substantial decline over the last three days. It’s still too soon to say whether it is merely a blip, but it may be a sign that the much-criticised “rule of six” is having an effect, either directly or indirectly by encouraging less socialising.

That dip, however, is just as likely to be used as ammunition by those who think that the latest measures are an overreaction to a brief and minor rise in infections and an unnecessary burden on a crippled economy.

That such a row has been allowed to spiral into a major parliamentary rebellion says as much about the Government’s poor handling of the pandemic and lack of parliamentary management as it does any philosophical debate.

 

By Daniel Capurro, Front Bench

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