Politics

Coronavirus: Group of 40 Tory rebels bid to force PM to offer vote on COVID-19 powers

A group of more than 40 Conservative MPs are bidding to force the government to give parliament a vote before the renewal of ministers’ coronavirus powers.

Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, is leading the cross-party effort to amend emergency COVID-19 legislation.

Powers under the Coronavirus Act, which was passed in March, have to be renewed by parliament every six months.

The potential Tory rebellion reflects the unease among some Conservative MPs about the continuing use of the powers and the latest restrictions announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week.

Ahead of their first renewal next Wednesday, Sir Graham is seeking to add a provision that each time new powers are used by ministers under the Coronavirus Act, parliament should have the opportunity to debate and vote on their use.

His amendment to next Wednesday’s motion has been backed by 40 other Conservative MPs – including former cabinet ministers Sir Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, Esther McVey and Sir John Redwood – as well as senior Labour MPs Harriet Harman and John Cryer, and the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson.

Former government minister Steve Baker, who is supporting Sir Graham’s amendment, has also tabled his own amendment to omit Schedule 21 powers from the act’s renewal.

Schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act specifies the powers given to police officers, public health officers and immigration officers to take actions against “potentially infectious” people.

It also creates criminal offences for non-compliance.

A recent Crown Prosecution Service review found that all 121 cases under the Coronavirus Act were found to have been incorrectly charged because there was no evidence they covered potentially infectious people.

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As well as the unease among some Tories about the continuance of the powers, civil liberties groups are currently campaigning for their curtailment.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston show on Wednesday night, Mr Baker called on MPs to back Sir Graham’s amendment and “say to the government: ‘We do actually need to vote in parliament before people’s liberties are locked down.'”

Sir Graham has previously criticised ministers for having “got into the habit of ruling by decree”.

However, there is no certainty that Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker of the House of Commons, will accept Sir Graham’s amendment as Wednesday’s proposed renewal of the coronavirus powers is via a statutory motion.

And the government might seek to strike a compromise with Sir Graham’s group of Tory MPs ahead of next week.

Next week could also see a rebellion among Tory MPs over Mr Johnson’s controversial bid to override the Brexit withdrawal deal.

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