Boris Johnson’s Second Lockdown Has Passed, But He Faces A December Rebellion From Furious Tories
Boris Johnson saw his four-week lockdown plan passed in the Commons but he faces a growing Tory rebellion on his Covid plans (PA)
Parliament has overwhelmingly voted to back Boris Johnson’s four-week national lockdown for England, in spite a wave of anger from his own Tory benches.
Dozens of MPs rebelled against the motion approving the Prime Minister’s plan to drive down the Covid infection rate, which will see pubs, shops, leisure and entertainment venues shut from midnight tonight.
His predecessor Theresa May tore into the scientific basis for his decision to tell people to stay in their homes once more, saying “it looks as if the figures are chosen to support the policy, rather than the policy being based on the figures”.
She abstained in the Commons vote, but more than 30 of her colleagues voted against it, including another ex-Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, and a number of former ministers.
Many more, such as former minister Nus Ghani and senior backbencher Sir Edward Leigh, warned during the debate they were backing today’s measures but were putting the PM “on notice” and would not approve a further such lockdown beyond the current December 2 cut-off.
The final tally saw the new regulations passed very comfortably by 516 to 38, however if more Conservatives shift their position it will see Mr Johnson relying on opposition votes to pass a future package of measures, as his majority will be wiped out.
One of those who did not back it was ex-Chief Whip Mark Harper, who said for only the second time in his 15 years in Parliament he was "not able to support my front bench".
He said there "several flaws" with the published data, including the "modelling that's taken place about the number of deaths is old data".
"The modelling that Sage has undertaken doesn't take into account... the introduction of the tiered system over the last couple of weeks,” Mr Harper explained.
"All of the modelling done by the NHS about its capacity has been based on that Sage modelling, so if that modelling is wrong, as I believe it is, then the NHS forecasts are wrong ... I simply therefore don't believe the government has made the case.”
Mrs May made a similar argument, telling the chamber: "It appears the decision to go towards this lockdown was partly, mainly, to some extent based on the prediction of 4,000 deaths a day.
"Yet if you look at the trajectory showing in that graph that went to 4,000 deaths a day, we would have reached 1,000 deaths a day by the end of October.
"The average in the last week of October was 259, by my calculations. Each of those deaths is a sadness and our thoughts are with the families, but it's not 1,000 deaths a day.
"So the prediction was wrong before it was even used.”
She added that to many people “it looks as if the figures are chosen to support the policy rather than the policy being based on the figures”, an argument echoed by Tory MP Philip Davies, who said he and the public "no longer have any faith" in the government's strategy.
"People are not stupid, they can see that the rules do not make any sense, and that is why they, like me, no longer have any faith in the people at the Department of Health and Public Health England who are making these decisions,” he added.
Two former ministers, Steve Baker and Sir Bob Neill, said they were voting against the lockdown “with a heavy heart”, but their colleague Sir Graham Brady said he would do so “with greater conviction than I have in casting any vote” in his 23 years as an MP.
The chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee questioned whether the government had "any right" to take some of the measures it wants, explaining: "The thing that troubles me most is that the Government is reaching too far in to the private and family lives of our constituents.
“I think there is an, unintended perhaps, arrogance in assuming the Government has the right to do so.
"That it has the right to tell people whether they can visit their elderly parents in a care home, whether it has the right to tell parents they can't see their children or grandchildren, whether it has any right - for heaven's sake - to tell consenting adults with whom they are allowed to sleep.
“Does it have the right to ban acts of collective worship?"
The senior backbench MP Sir Charles Walker warned MPs: "We are not asking constituents to do anything, we have never asked, we have coerced them - we have coerced them through criminal and civil law."
He said: "We have criminalised freedom of association, the freedom to go about one's business, the freedom to travel and the freedom to protest - that is the oxygen of democracy.
Sir Charles agreed with Sir Graham, saying the legislation “is terribly unjust and in many parts cruel”, adding: “I will have no part of criminalising parents seeing their children, and children for seeing their parents.
But summing up the debate health secretary Matt Hancock said: "Ultimately this comes to a very significant judgment. It comes to a judgment about how we best-manage a nation and lead a nation through an incredibly difficult period, with a pandemic of a virus which exists only to multiply.”
He added: ”So in ordinary times, these measures would be unimaginable, but these are not ordinary times”
"While we support every person and with everything we've got, support the science that with increasing confidence each day I know will help us to find a better way through."