UK coronavirus news: Johnson warned ‘rule of law’ at risk if MPs don’t get more of a say over Covid rules

Posted by on September 30, 2020 4:38 am
Categories: Global Stories

Live updates: prime minister under pressure from MPs ahead of debate on extending emergency powers in the Coronavirus Act

9.37am BST

In his Today interview Steve Baker gave a clue as to the possible basis of a deal between ministers and backbenchers over the Commons getting more say over Covid rules (see 9.23am) when he stressed three principles. He said:

I think there’s a common understanding between the government and ourselves on three things: that the government needs to retain the capacity for swift and effective action, that we shouldn’t be creating opportunities for vexatious opportunism from the opposition parties, and, thirdly, that we need prior approval of measures, major measures on a national scale, and indeed I think on a regional scale, which take away people’s liberties. That is the fundamental point of parliament – to legitimise, to authorise, restricting people’s freedom’s for the sake of the public interest. And at the moment MPs feel increasingly helpless as they find themselves unable to stand up for their constituents.

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.

provided ministers ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that in the exercise of their powers to tackle the pandemic under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and other primary legislation, including for example Part 2A of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, parliament has 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.

9.23am BST

Good morning. Brexit was supposed to be about parliament “taking back control” but one of the extraordinary ironies of 2020 is that Britain’s departure from the European Union has coincided with the government implementing the most draconian restrictions on ordinary life seen in peacetime – mostly with MPs having no say over the process at all. The key lockdown measures have become law as regulations passed under emergency powers, Because of the way such secondary legislation is scrutinised, MPs have not had the chance to vote before the laws take effect, the few votes that have taken place have been retrospective (after the laws are already in place) and mostly the regulations have not been subject to votes or debates at all.

Now many MPs have had enough. There will be a debate tonight on extending the powers in the Coronavirus Act and many amendments have been tabled saying MPs should have a greater say. The most important has been tabled by Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, and it has got the support of dozens of Tories. It is likely that the amendments won’t be put to a vote for procedural reasons and ministers know that, if they don’t resolve this issue now, at some point soon the rebels will line up with the opposition to defeat them over this and so talks will take place this morning on a possible compromise.

What I’ve found by talking with colleagues on the back benches, and indeed colleagues on the front benches, is people are extremely concerned about parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, the basis of our freedoms and our prosperity in the course of this crisis. And I do mean ministers – I’ve been amazed at the broad smiles that I’ve had from ministers in the course of this campaign … There is widespread concern in parliament across parties and throughout the Conservative party that we are not standing up for parliamentary democracy and the rule of law and really that is what today is about.

When you get such a large and shifting body of law, you find even ministers and the prime minister cannot keep up with it.

What possible hope can the public have? I had one minister say to me yesterday, with terror in his eyes about the disease, we might have to change the law every 24 hours.

Related: Coronavirus live news: Belgium’s death toll passes 10,000; Ukraine records daily cases high

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