Boris Johnson under pressure to give MPs a vote on Covid-19 restraints

Doubts emerge over Tory plan after prime minister delivers confused response on virus measures

British prime minister Boris Johnson on his visit to Exeter gave a misleading description of new measures coming into force from midnight on Wednesday in the northeast of England. Photograph: Getty

British prime minister Boris Johnson on his visit to Exeter gave a misleading description of new measures coming into force from midnight on Wednesday in the northeast of England. Photograph: Getty

 

British prime minister Boris Johnson is under growing pressure to give MPs a vote on future coronavirus restrictions, as cases reached a record high and Britain recorded its worst daily death toll since July.

Dozens of Conservative MPs have threatened to rebel in a vote on extending the government’s coronavirus powers on Wednesday unless parliament is given a veto over future measures.

MPs’ doubts about the government’s strategy were reinforced when the prime minister apologised after he gave a confused and misleading description of new measures coming into force from midnight on Wednesday in the northeast of England. During a visit to Exeter, Mr Johnson was asked if people from different households would be able to meet in a pub garden, a question education minister Gillian Keegan had been unable to answer a few hours earlier. 

“On the rule of six, outside the areas such as the northeast where extra measures have been brought in, it’s six inside, six outside. And in the northeast and other areas where extra tight measures have been brought in, you should follow the guidance of local authorities. But it’s six in a home, six in hospitality, but, as I understand it, not six outside,” he said.

The rule of six, which was introduced throughout England two weeks ago, means that no more than six people are allowed to meet either indoors or outdoors, at home or in a pub or restaurant. In the northeast, members of different households may not meet in any indoor setting and are discouraged from meeting outdoors, including in a pub garden, but not prohibited from doing so.

‘Grossly incompetent’

Mr Johnson said later he had misspoken, but Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the incident showed up the government’s confused response to coronavirus.

“For the prime minister to not understand his own rules is grossly incompetent. These new restrictions are due to come into force across huge parts of the country tonight. The government needs to get a grip,” she said.

Britain recorded 7,143 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest number since the pandemic began. There were 73 deaths, bringing the official total death toll to 42,072.

Mr Johnson will host a press conference in Downing Street on Wednesday alongside chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance to talk about the latest coronavirus statistics. He is not expected to announce new restrictions.

MPs must vote on Wednesday to renew the government’s coronavirus powers for a further six months but a growing number of Conservative rebels are backing an amendment that would give MPs a vote on new measures. Rebels say that up to 100 Conservative MPs will support the amendment if the Speaker calls it and that the government faces certain defeat if it does not compromise.

Given the scale of the Tory rebellion, the government is expected to offer a compromise even if the Speaker does not call the amendment.  

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