MPs must share decision making burden on draconian coronavirus laws – Tory rebel

Labour is expected to support the amendment, meaning that if 40 Tories rebel, Mr Johnson could lose the vote.

Conservative MP Steve Baker
Conservative MP Steve Baker

MPs must share in the “dreadful burden” of decision making on “draconian” coronavirus restrictions, a Tory rebel leading calls for Parliament to be given a vote before new laws come into force has said.

Former minister Steve Baker is among at least 40 Conservative backbenchers who are pushing the Government to give the Commons a chance to debate and vote on Covid-19 rules before they are enacted.

Tory chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady has tabled an amendment to the Coronavirus Act – which will be reviewed on Wednesday – trying to force greater parliamentary scrutiny of the regulations.

In a bid to appease the backbenches Downing Street offered MPs a chance to debate and vote on the “rule of six” next month, but the rebels are continuing to press for debates and votes before all measures come into force.

Labour is expected to support the amendment, meaning that if 40 Tories rebel, Mr Johnson could lose the vote despite his 80-strong Commons majority.

Mr Baker told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “MPs should be sharing in the dreadful burden of decision in these circumstances and not just retrospectively being asked to approve what the Government has done…

“How do people think that liberty dies? It dies like this with Government exercising draconian powers, without parliamentary scrutiny in advance, undermining the rule of law by having a shifting blanket of rules that no-one can understand.”

He said there were “plenty” of MPs who would back the amendment, and that he thought it would be selected by the Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

Conservative former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green, who was effectively deputy PM under Theresa May, liaison committee chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin, Sir Bob Neill and former Brexit secretary David Davis are among those to back the bid.

DUP MPs and the chairman of the Labour parliamentary party John Cryer are also supporting the move. Labour has said the party is “sympathetic” to the amendment.

Former Commons Speaker John Bercow added his voice to the calls for greater parliamentary scrutiny.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World This Weekend that Parliament had been “unavoidably constrained” by coronavirus but said it “should not now avoidably constrain or hamper itself”.

“Debate, scrutiny and votes are the lifeblood of a pluralist system,” he said.

“Without them – and they are tremendously important safeguards – what you have is Government by executive fiat and it seems to me that there is a world of difference between the situation six months ago and that which pertains today.”

Mr Bercow went on: “If governments feel that they can bypass or circumvent or stymie the voice of Parliament, if they don’t really feel the need to consult the legislature any more, well then they will just do things their own.

“What I say is that the toolkit of Trumpianism – if you will, press conferences, sub-Churchillian scripted soundbites in television addresses to the nation or simply taking to Twitter – is not good enough.

“It is no substitute for that age-old, tried and tested, invaluable mechanism called accountability to Parliament. So ducking, diving, dodging scrutiny, of which there has been some evidence in recent times, cannot continue.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden earlier said it was important the Government has the power to “move quickly” in introducing new coronavirus rules.

He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I think it’s important in a crisis like this, when things are moving very rapidly, that the Government has the power to move quickly – and that is the power that the Government was given through the initial legislation earlier this year.

“But then it is important that MPs hold us to account and vote on that, and that is exactly what is happening here.”

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