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PM spared revolt as Speaker criticises ‘disregard’ for Parliament

House of Commons

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Boris Johnson’s Government has been heavily criticised by the Speaker for showing a “total disregard” for Parliament but was spared a Commons revolt over coronavirus laws.

The Prime Minister was facing a rebellion on Wednesday from more than 50 Conservative backbench MPs who are angry that the UK Government has imposed rules without Parliament’s scrutiny.

They were set to back an amendment from Sir Graham Brady, the influential chair of the 1922 Committee of Tories, which would have handed Mr Johnson a defeat with opposition support.

But Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he was unable to select any amendments ahead of a vote on the renewal of the powers to avoid “undermining the rule of law”.

Sir Lindsay told MPs that the UK Government had used its powers to make legislation under the Coronavirus Act during the crisis in a “totally unsatisfactory” manner.

“All too often, important statutory instruments have been published a matter of hours before they come into force and some explanations as to why important measures have come into effect before they can be laid before this House has been unconvincing and shows a total disregard for the House,” he said.

But he said that the advice he had received was that any amendment “risks giving rise to uncertainty” about the decision of the House because only 90 minutes were available for the debate.

“This then risks decisions that are rightly the responsibility of Parliament ultimately being determined by the courts,” he added.

Ministers had been holding talks with key MPs in order to quell a backbench revolt.

Sir Graham said he remained hopeful that the Government will make concessions on coronavirus powers.

“The Speaker set out his reasons for not selecting any amendments, but he also made it clear that he expects the Government to ensure proper and timely parliamentary scrutiny,” he said.

“I am hopeful that the Government will respond appropriately this afternoon.”

Another rebel, Steve Baker, said Sir Lindsay had made an “entirely reasonable” decision and said he continued to “expect to reach a good compromise with the Government shortly”.

MPs were to vote on the first six-month renewal of the Act after a later debate on Wednesday.

A third of the UK population will be under increased restrictions to slow the resurgence of Covid-19 when four areas in North Wales go into lockdown on Thursday, adding to those across the nation with “local” measures imposed.

The rebels wanted to force further parliamentary scrutiny of the Government, which they argued would ensure a clearer and more effective approach to the crisis is taken.

They believed their argument was bolstered when Mr Johnson was forced to apologise for getting his own coronavirus restrictions wrong during a press conference on Tuesday.