Boris Johnson faces prospect of Tory rebellion as MPs prepare to vote on Covid restrictions extension

MPs set to vote on four-week delay on Wednesday

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 16 June 2021 09:12

Boris Johnson is facing the prospect of a backbench Conservative rebellion as MPs are asked to approve the extension of Covid restrictions in England for an additional four weeks.

The vote comes just days after the prime minister announced a delay to the so-called “Freedom Day” — the lifting of all remaining coronavirus measures — that had been pencilled in for 21 June, amid concern over the spread of the Delta variant that was first detected in India.

Instead, the government will ask MPs today to sign off an extension to the restrictions until 19 July, which Mr Johnson described as the “terminus date” during a No 10 press conference, but also declined to rule out an additional delay next month.

Given Sir Keir Starmer is expected to instruct his MPs to back the extension of the coronavirus measures until July, the government’s plans will almost certainly pass the House of Commons later today.

But Conservative lockdown-sceptics are likely to express their anger during the debate on Wednesday – despite reports the prime minister had been been calling wavering MPs on Tuesday urging them to back the extension of restrictions.

The Tory MP Peter Bone, who said he was “disappointed and surprised” by 21 June delay, told The Independent he will vote against the government.

“The guiding principle is to take away the freedoms of the English people — there has to be a real and severe threat and I don’t think the government has made its case for that,” he said.

Conservative Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), told LBC radio earlier this week he believed the government “could have moved ahead perfectly safely on 21 June”.

“I listened carefully to what the prime minister said yesterday and I was in the House of Commons for the health secretary’s statement, and it seemed to me we don’t know anything today that we didn’t know when the prime minister was telling us he was happy to move ahead on the 21st of June.”

However, some scientists who were calling for a short delay to the 21 June date said the move was necessary to prevent a spike in hospitalisations due to the surge in infections of the Delta variant in some areas of the country in recent weeks.

In a sign of the unease about the continuation of restrictions in the Tory ranks, the cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg also told a podcast hosted by the Conservative Home website: “Infections are not what matters anymore. Two things that matter: can the NHS cope and the number of deaths.”

He later added: “Ultimately, the NHS is there to serve the British people, not the British people there to save the NHS. Therefore we may need to spend more money on hospitals.

“You can’t run society just to stop the hospitals being full, otherwise you’d never let us get in our cars and drive anywhere or do any of the other things that people want to do, so there has to be some proportionality”.

He also stressed that it cannot be the case that every adult in the country had to have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine before restrictions are lifted, saying: “You need to look at the risk”.

Quizzed on his comments and the government policy of protecting the NHS since the onset of the pandemic, the international trade secretary Liz Truss told Sky News: “Jacob has his views and those are his views.

“But what I’m telling you is the reason we are doing this, the reason we are taking these measures is to protect lives, and that’s what’s important.”

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