Tory backbench rebellion fails to disrupt rule of six Covid-19 restrictions
Boris Johnson has faced a backbench rebellion over Covid-19 gathering restrictions, as senior Tory MPs urged the Prime Minister to change direction.
Twelve Conservatives voted against the rule of six regulations in England, while several others abstained after voicing concerns during an at times testy debate in the Commons.
They questioned the rationale behind children not being exempt from the Government’s restriction, which bans social gathering of more than six people.
The motion on the regulations was approved by 287 votes to 17, majority 270, with Labour abstaining.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, asked whether the Government had considered a “rule of eight” instead, and Tory Huw Merriman said he could not vote in favour of the motion as he fears the rule of six will “do more harm than good”.
Tory former minister Steve Baker added: “We’re hearing about people who are being destroyed by this lockdown, strong, confident people, outgoing people, gregarious people who are being destroyed and reduced to repeated episodes of tears on the phone.
“This is a devastating social impact on our society and I believe that people would make different choices were they the ones able to take responsibility for themselves.”
Intervening, Tory Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) said the Government should publish details about the “other effects of such draconian rules”, including mental health, cancer and “deaths that we’re simply stocking up for the future that we’re not seeing yet”.
Health Minister Helen Whately earlier came under fire from MPs over the clarity of the Government’s coronavirus restrictions and the evidence behind them.
On the impact of the rule of six measures, Ms Whately said: “They have only been in place for just over three weeks and what we do know is it takes at least a couple of weeks for us to see measures take their effect because of the incubation period of the virus.”
She added: “Clearly we are keeping a very close eye on infect rates and absolute case numbers across the country.”
But Conservative former minister Sir Christopher Chope said the regulations were “brought in on a whim”, adding: “We’re talking about draconian powers which are restricting the liberty of the British citizen, we shouldn’t be introducing draconian powers without the strongest possible justification – I don’t think the minister has set out any justification in her remarks.”
Tory former chief whip Mark Harper, on giving powers of using reasonable force to PCSOs and local government employees, said: “I, for one, am not comfortable as a former Home Office minister with the powers to use reasonable force given to people who don’t have the power or training to use it.
“I’ve seen where that has led to the loss of life… if those regulations are not amended, I will vote against them.
“I am not voting to give powers to use reasonable force to people who are not trained to use those powers and if they use them incorrectly will lead to the deaths of adults and to potentially children.”
Ms Whately also faced criticism from MPs after suggesting the alternative to imposing restrictions would be allowing the virus to “let rip”.
Making an intervention, Mr Baker said: “Nobody is suggesting that we let the virus rip.”
He added: “I think we all accept that it is deadly for people who have prior risk factors which raise the infection fatality rate, but isn’t it the truth that for a great many people who are younger and without prior conditions, this is not an especially deadly disease?”
Ms Whately responded: “The majority of those that have spoken this evening have absolutely supported the fact that we do need to have restrictions in place which is very good to hear.”
Mr Harper added: “We all want the Government to be successful but if every time somebody asks a question or posits a different strategy, we are accused of wanting to let it rip and kill tens of thousands of people, this debate will not remain good-tempered and I would just say to her please accept we are all trying to get this right.”
The 12 Conservative MPs who rebelled to oppose the rule of six Covid-19 regulations were: Peter Bone (Wellingborough), Sir Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West), Philip Davies (Shipley), Richard Drax (South Dorset), Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Esther McVey (Tatton), Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle), Henry Smith (Crawley), Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West), Sir Robert Syms (Poole), Charles Walker (Broxbourne), and William Wragg (Hazel Grove).
Tellers for the noes were Conservative MPs Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) and Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch).