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With regard to Omicron, this is where we left off on Monday in the UK — one death:

Guido Fawkes’s accompanying post says (emphasis in the original):

Boris has claimed this morning that one hospital patient has died with the Omicron variant, telling cameras “Sadly yes, Omicron is producing hospitalisations, and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron.” It is not yet known whether the patient had comorbidities...

So far, it is believed that Omicron is a relatively mild variant. The Singaporean Ministry of Health has stated (H/T Guido Fawkes; emphasis mine):

Cases who have been detected around the world have mostly displayed mild symptoms, and no Omicron-related deaths have been reported so far. Common symptoms reported include sore throat, tiredness and cough.

The numbers hospitalised with Omicron are in single digits …

… never mind what Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said on this morning’s news round:

Dominic Raab doesn’t appear to know how many patients are in hospital with Omicron. Yesterday, Sajid Javid said it was “around ten”, with Raab this morning claiming on Sky News that the figure had now jumped up to 250, which would be an alarming leap in just 24 hours. Thirty minutes later on BBC Breakfast, however, Raab inexplicably slashed that number all the way down to 9. The new antiviral treatments are good – they aren’t that good.

Regardless, today, after the Government already implemented it last week, MPs voted on Plan B for England. There were four separate divisions (votes). One was on coronavirus passports.

When Tuesday’s parliamentary session began, Plan B involved wearing masks in enclosed spaces and public transport as well, working from home as well as a return to quarantine.

When Health Secretary Sajid Javid began his address, he mentioned that quarantine would be less severe. It would now involve daily testing instead of a mandated policy to stay indoors (emphases mine):

At the end of last month, this House passed regulations requiring all close contacts of a suspected or confirmed omicron case to self-isolate for 10 days, but given the increasing dominance of omicron, this approach no longer makes sense for public health purposes and nor is it sustainable for the economy. So we are drawing on the testing capacity that we have built to create a new system of daily testing for covid contacts that has started today. Instead of close contacts of confirmed cases or suspected cases having to self-isolate, all vaccinated contacts, irrespective of whether the contact was with an omicron case, will be asked to take lateral flow tests every day for seven days. Regulation No. 1415 allows us to put this plan into action by revoking the omicron-specific provisions for self-isolation.

Ahead of the official vote, The Telegraph‘s cartoonist Bob Moran took action on masks on Saturday, December 11:

Not surprisingly, Plan B has begun to wreak havoc with cancellations of international travel and Christmas gatherings in hospitality venues.

At least 80 Conservative MPs were expected to rebel and vote against the Government. On the day, 98 rebelled against the vaccine passport, along with three others spotted by Labour Whips. They included Sir Desmond Swayne and Bob Seely. I plan to discuss the results in another post:

Although a rebellion by Conservatives alone did not stop the Government winning the votes — thanks to Labour! — it should send a clear message to Boris.

Alicia Kearns tweeted that she would vote against coronavirus passports:

People living in England are concerned about the constant moving of goalposts with regard to coronavirus restrictions.

Conservative MPs became angry last week. In his press conference on Wednesday, December 8, when he announced Plan B, Boris mooted the idea of ‘a national conversation’ about mandatory vaccinations:

The rebel MPs’ reaction was immediate:

Guido began compiling his list on December 9. A selection of comments from MPs follows:

  • Alexander Stafford said “he cannot and will not support mandatory vaccinations“, adding that working from home “disproportionately negatively affects younger people and those starting out in their careers”.
  • Douglas Ross said “There is no evidence that vaccine passports stop the spread of Covid” and that since he didn’t vote for them in Holyrood, he wouldn’t vote for them in Westminster either.
  • Graham Brady said in the chamber last night that “it’s deja vu all over again, isn’t it?
  • Peter Bone slammed compulsory vaccinations on Newsnight, calling the idea “completely outrageous“, and even saying “I’d be the first to say the PM should go” if they were implemented.
  • Simon Jupp said “I don’t support Plan B”, called vaccine passports “divisive & discriminatory”, and made it clear that he “won’t vote for these measures.”
  • Steve Baker insisted it is “vital that the maximum number of Conservative MPs vote against Plan B, whatever our useless Opposition do”.

Over the weekend, Steve Baker tweeted that he would be relaunching his Conservative Way Forward movement, open to MPs and the general public. It is meant to restore the Conservative Party to its proper origins rather than a Boris-led Blairite/Labour-lite party:

Sir Edward Leigh MP stated his intention to vote against the Government for the first time during this Parliament:

Mark Harper MP pointed out:

“there is no exit strategy”, and asked “why should people at home…do things that people working in Number 10 Downing Street are not prepared to do?” 

The Spectator‘s Kate Andrews also noted the same thing, comparing the content of December 8’s press conference with the others that had preceded it. The Government and scientific advisers have made many poor contradictions and bad comparisons between the UK with a strongly vaccinated population versus one like South Africa’s:

The Spectator contrasts what our scientific experts from SAGE put forward compared with the real statistics. SAGE have a lot of explaining to do, yet Boris continues to court their shamefully extreme modelling.

Guido’s December 9 poll of the public shows that they are increasingly concerned about scope creep, especially with regard to Plan B:

Guido’s post reveals who led the press (‘lobby’) briefing that day. It was not the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC):

A poll of 3,170 Guido readers opened earlier has less than one-in-seven believing the government’s timing of Plan B yesterday was based on epidemiological reasons, and not politics.

Guido can’t say he’s surprised. Sources suggest that while a quad meeting was always scheduled for yesterday afternoon, Plan B was not on the table. During the morning the briefings were coming from Downing Street not DHSC, further suggesting the move was more politically than epidemiologically motivated.

William Wragg MP was the first to notice the political end to Plan B — a diversion from the Christmas party debacle — and actually challenged Boris on it last Wednesday at PMQs, only hours before the press conference. Tom Newton Dunn tweeted:

Senior Tory William Wragg challenges Johnson directly during PMQs over if he’s bringing in Plan B today, and says “few will be fooled by this diversionary tactic”. Johnson doesn’t deny, but says: “No decisions will be taken without consulting the Cabinet”.

It would have been even better if Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Opposition had said that, but, alas, he’s all on board with further restrictions. If he were Prime Minister, we would have never had Freedom Day on Monday, July 19. We would have been where Scotland and Wales continue to be, still restricted in many ways, with compulsory masks and vaccine passports.

On Monday evening, December 13, Sir Keir somehow got media outlets to televise his support for Plan B. The reason for this baffles me, as he is not in Government.

It does appear as if we have a coalition Conservative-Labour government, because the latter jumps on every coronavirus restriction bandwagon going. The Sun‘s Trevor Kavanagh told Nigel Farage that this is not a good thing:

According to a GB News poll for Dan Wootton Tonight, the public strongly disapprove of Plan B:

Sadly, we now have Plan B in England: face coverings in enclosed spaces, vaccine passports for large venues/events and mandatory vaccines for NHS/care home staff by April 2022. Self-isolation with daily testing was approved unanimously; there was no division on that motion.

The question remains: do we get another lockdown, i.e. Plan C, in the New Year?

Boris wouldn’t dare, would he?

Omicron has British politicians reaching for the Control button yet again.

On Tuesday, November 30, 2021, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly for new face-covering restrictions: 434 to 23. The new self-isolation rules also passed: 431 to 36.

I watched the three-hour debate that afternoon. Apart from the dissenters — all Conservative MPs — it was soul destroying, particularly since there were only three Labour MPs in attendance!

The debate transcript is on Hansard. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Maggie Throup was the minister who laid out the restrictions on face coverings for the next three weeks and new self-isolation rules for the next three months. She also closed the debate prior to the division (vote).

This debate concerned the wearing of masks for the next three weeks on public transport, including taxis, and in shops, post offices, banks, beauty salons, takeaways, veterinary clinics and driving instruction vehicles.

Throup did not list all of those. She did add that exemptions are in place:

Given the potential severity of the consequences of not responding swiftly to this new variant, the Government have taken decisive action to bring back compulsory face-covering wearing in an array of settings. Face coverings are again compulsory in shops and on public transport, unless an individual has a medical exemption or a reasonable excuse.

It is illegal for anyone to query why or what the exemption/excuse is.

As many organisations are now cancelling large Christmas celebrations in light of the Omicron variant, Sir Desmond Swayne was rightly concerned about the hospitality industry, which has only started recovering from a long lockdown during the first half of this year:

Will the Minister deprecate those public appointees who, notwithstanding the clear proportionate advice of the chief scientific adviser, have been on the airwaves telling people that they should not socialise, to the huge detriment of people’s wellbeing and of an industry struggling to recover from earlier lockdowns?

Throup replied saying that the restrictions were:

proportionate, precautionary and balanced, and are being made in response to the specific threat.

These restrictions will expire in three weeks’ time, at which point Parliament will be in Christmas recess. Therefore, if they need to be extended, the Government could automatically do so without another vote.

The Shadow (Opposition) Health Minister, Alex Norris (Labour), said that he was grateful the restrictions were brought forward for a vote.

Mark Harper, a doughty opponent of coronavirus restrictions, intervened in Norris’s speech, saying that Parliament should be recalled during Christmas recess if there were an extension or a strengthening of these restrictions:

I am very pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman say that about parliamentary scrutiny. He will know that yesterday I asked the Government for assurances if they were to want to extend or strengthen these measures after the House has risen for the Christmas recess, as I feel that if that is the case the House should either continue sitting or be recalled. In answer to my question, the Leader of the House suggested that it would be up to the House. I therefore ask this of the hon. Gentleman speaking for the Opposition: if the Government were to bring forward strengthened measures or want to extend them after the House has risen, would the Opposition support the House being recalled so that we can debate and vote on the matters in advance, or is he prepared to give the Government a blank cheque?

Another Conservative MP, Karl McCartney, asked Norris whether he preferred a recall before or after Christmas.

Norris refused to commit a preference for either time period.

Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, asked why the Government’s regulations had become effective at 4 a.m. on the day of the debate, which was held in the afternoon:

Why on earth did the regulations come into force at 4 am today when we are here now, at 20 minutes to 2 in the afternoon, debating them? Surely it would have been possible to have a debate yesterday, or indeed to delay their implementation until this afternoon. I think that indicates a rather casual attitude to parliamentary scrutiny that persists in Government.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) has asked important questions about what will happen if the regulations are renewed after the three-week period, when the House is not sitting. We still have no clarity as to whether the House would be recalled or whether the regulations would simply be extended for a period of weeks without the House having the opportunity to comment.

Mark Harper noted that there was plenty of time for the debate on Monday evening, since the House of Commons had adjourned early:

It is also worth saying that one of the things we get from Ministers when we press them on these things is about parliamentary time, but my hon. Friend will know that the House normally sits until 10.30 pm on a Monday. Looking at yesterday’s performance, the House got to the Adjournment debate at about quarter past 7. There were hours yesterday when the House could easily have debated both these measures, which means we could have debated them before they came into force. Even the Opposition agree that that is invariably the better solution when it is at all possible.

Sir Graham Brady agreed:

Absolutely. As a former Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend knows very well that there is always parliamentary time available when the Government want to do something; it is only when they are reluctant to do something that parliamentary time becomes elusive.

There is a further question as to why only one of the instruments before us has an expiry date in the regulations. Surely it would have been better to put an expiry date in place, which would have required some positive action to renew or extend the regulations if that was deemed necessary.

A few minutes later he said:

In the summer of 2020, the Prime Minister said that it was time to move on and time to start to trust people to make decisions for themselves. I rejoiced at that and thought what a wonderful thing it was that we were moving to a point where we would advise people, inform people and make sure they had the best evidence to make decisions in their own lives. Now, however, we see the first instinct of the Government when we do not even have any evidence that the omicron variant is worse in its effects. There is some suggestion from South Africa that it might be less severe, but the Government’s first instinct is to introduce further compulsory measures and regulations relating to self-isolation and to face coverings in some settings but only until 20 December, plus measures that affect the travel industry, particularly the move back to PCR tests on day two.

He added:

We cannot move, as we appear to have done, to an environment in which the Government simply assume they can instruct us whenever there is the first small evidence from anywhere in the world of a new strain that might behave in a different way, and new and potentially swingeing public health measures are put in place. I ask Ministers to consider the implications of that and for looking at other diseases. Will we start to treat other diseases and viruses in the same way, assuming the best thing to do is to compel people and instruct them on what actions they need to take?

He was clearly disappointed with the new regulations and the continuing Coronavirus Act 2020:

We have now lived it for 18 months and we can see this reaching ahead. We think back to when the Coronavirus Act 2020 was renewed again, taking us through to spring next year, and the assurances we were given that that would be the last time. I thought we would not need this kind of legislation again, but we see the Government’s immediate assumption that they should reach for new controls, new compulsion and new rules to inflict on the British people. We need to move away from that and back to a world where we trust people, engage with the public and recognise that the Government are there to serve the people, not the other way around.

Steve Brine pointed out the lack of MPs on the Opposition benches:

It was bad enough when the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020 was nodded through without a vote. There has been lots of excitement and flurry recently about Members of Parliament and the work that we do. There is now one Labour Back Bencher, one Liberal Democrat—albeit that she is one twelfth of the parliamentary party—and one Democratic Unionist party Member in the Chamber. I understand why SNP Members are not here in force, because they rightly do not vote on English matters, but I think that this is something that the public should be concerned about. We are making an impact on their lives today, and it is a disgrace that this House is so empty.

Is anybody other than the Minister going to speak in favour of the regulations today? In the House of Commons, in my experience of 11 and a half years, you do not just have to win the vote; you have to win the argument as well. Of course the Government will win the vote today, because the Opposition—who always say “How high do you want us to jump?” when the Government propose new restrictions on our lives—will pretend to ask difficult questions while voting for the restrictions anyway. They said that they would vote for them before they had even seen the published regulations. Frankly, I think that that is a derogation of duty from Her Majesty’s Opposition.

He questioned the way the new self-isolation text was worded:

Under new regulation 2B(1)(ba)—I know; how are the public meant to follow this?—of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020, if one child in a class of 30 has had close contact with someone who

“is suspected of, or confirmed as, having an Omicron variant”,

presumably the other 29 are out. We are not just looking at a pingdemic in our economy and in our businesses; we are looking at a pingdemic that will devastate education again. After everything that we have learned—everything that I have felt in my own family—are we really, seriously, going to do that to our children again?

He deplored the fact that schools are cancelling Nativity plays and that big Christmas celebrations are being cancelled:

What concerns me is the chilling effect that this is having on the rest of our society. The fact that No. 10 Downing Street, the centre of government, has taken to the national newspapers today to ask head teachers not to cancel nativity plays because of the announcement that we made on Saturday night makes me ask, “What on earth are we doing?”

We should think of the effect that this is having on confidence, on society and on hospitality. Those in hospitality have put everything into this Christmas in order to survive and to save their year. There is nothing in these regulations that says Christmas parties must be cancelled—unless, of course, Dr Harries [head of the new Health Security Agency] is in charge—but there is everything in the language and the narrative coming out of the Government right now that is causing Christmas parties to be cancelled left, right and centre. I have seen organisations in my constituency cancel events that were due to happen within the next few weeks, on a “just in case” basis. These regulations will have a chilling effect, and we should not underestimate that just because it is not written in black and white.

Brine questioned whether the Department for Health and Social Care consulted other government departments before coming up with these restrictions. Travel reservations will decrease once again. Travel agencies are also adversely affected.

Mark Harper intervened to say that the Government has not been involving other departments in coronavirus legislation:

My hon. Friend has touched on an important point about the process within Government to ensure that all aspects are considered. What normally happens is that regulations are thought about and there is a right-round process—which, for the benefit of those listening to the debate, means that all Government Departments have the opportunity to provide an input. One thing we have discovered is that in the case of covid regulations, that right-round process does not operate in the normal way. Through my hon. Friend, I ask the Minister to clarify in her winding-up speech whether, as these regulations were being drafted, other Departments were consulted and given the usual opportunity to provide an input, or whether this was done purely in the Department of Health and No. 10 Downing Street.

Sir Christopher Chope gave a long but excellent speech.

He noted that most people who wear masks are not wearing them correctly, rendering them useless:

Very few people wear their face mask correctly. The World Health Organisation’s advice says that people should wash their hands as soon as they take off their face mask, that they should discard temporary face masks and that they should wash their hands again when they put on a fresh face mask.

I had a discussion with Mr Speaker on this subject some months ago and, while we were having that discussion, one of our colleagues came into the Tea Room wearing a mask, took it off and put it on the breakfast table. I said to Mr Speaker that it really makes my point. Frankly, if we are talking about public hygiene and public health, the Government should be saying, “If you think you want to wear a mask, go and wear a mask but, for crying out loud, make sure you don’t contaminate yourself and others by not wearing it correctly.”

He said that he could not vote in favour of the restrictions:

I cannot support these oppressive, authoritarian and dictatorial regulations, which are neither necessary nor desirable. They will have an adverse effect on lives, livelihoods and the mental health of our constituents. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care considers that

“the requirements imposed by these Regulations are proportionate to what they seek to achieve, which is a public health response to the threat.”

Where is the evidence? The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), adduced no evidence whatsoever, and there is no regulatory impact assessment—the excuse is that the regulations will be in force for less than a year. Why is there no regulatory impact assessment? Why are we being asked to support a policy for which there is no evidence?

If there had been a regulatory impact assessment, there would be a requirement on the Government under the regulation rules of the Cabinet Office to put forward the possible alternatives to these regulations. We need goal-setting requirements, rather than prescription. More and more prescription seems to be the Government’s recipe.

To take an example, why is a shopkeeper not allowed to permit people to shop without wearing a face covering, provided those people have had a proper vaccination? Why is the keeper of a small shop not allowed to keep their front door open and allow people to go in and out without the need to wear a face covering—there would be adequate ventilation—or perhaps, as some small shops in my constituency do, have a one-in, one-out rule so that there is only one person in the shop with them? Why are we not allowing shops to have that freedom?

If we want to have a consistent policy, why are we treating those who have been fully vaccinated in the same way as those who have not been fully vaccinated? That seems to be wholly inconsistent with the regulations introduced by the Government in relation to people who work in care homes, and they propose to bring in similar restrictions for those working in the health service. If, having required those people to be double-vaccinated, we are saying that they are not in a privileged position when it comes to going into their local shop, what is the point of depriving those who have not been double-vaccinated of their right to work? There does not seem to be any consistency.

He also pointed out an inconsistency on mask wearing exemptions which Maggie Throup said will be corrected.

He concluded:

Obviously, people out there will be wondering about exemptions and reasonable excuses. The hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who chairs the Select Committee on Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, drew attention in his intervention to the fact that young people are going around in shopping centres saying that they have a reasonable excuse for not complying with the regulations and for not wearing face masks. What is the problem with that? If people have a reasonable excuse for not wearing face coverings, let us not get too fussed about it. That is why these regulations are part of a scaremongering propaganda campaign on the part of the Government that is designed to try to stop or restrict social interaction between social animals who happen to be living in the United Kingdom. That is potentially the most damaging aspect of the regulations before us today: they are designed to suppress freedom of the individual and to suppress social contact and they are doing that through unreasonable fearmongering.

Craig Mackinlay said there were too many absurdities in the regulations for him to support them:

We are, though, left with a gross absurdity that will perhaps face everyone in the House over the next few weeks. When someone goes to the off-licence on the way to a party later, it might take them only 45 seconds to get their tipple of choice but they will have to wear a mask on pain of a fine. They can then make their way to a house party, with 100 people or perhaps more—perhaps an infinite number of people—where it will be enclosed, warm, cosy and friendly and they can take that same face mask off. Really? It is an infantile proposal and we are in danger of falling down the same absurdities as we fell down before, with the madness of the couple who could walk across a golf course but dare not play on it. This is the absurdity that I have voted against previously and will vote against again.

Let me move on to the self-isolation requirements. I am afraid that the proposals mean we are going to fall into a new pingdemic. There is nothing in the regulations, in anything the Minister has said or in anything else I have heard to date to say that the testing regime will be backed up with proper genome sequencing at the right rate, so we can get back to a situation in which people can be told, “No, your contact was not omicron. You’re fine.” My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester picked up on a very dangerous phrase in the regulations, and that is “suspected of”. I do not know what that means. I know what “confirmed as” means—to be confirmed through a proper genome-sequence test—but what about “suspected of”? When people get that phone call, text, email or ping from the NHS—if they have been daft enough to have the app on their phone—are they now going to hear, just because the words “suspected of” have been added, “Thou shalt be held indoors for 10 days”? This is where we end up with mission creep and the chilling effect that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester mentioned.

I am going to be somewhat concerned about going to that Christmas party or that pub, because I have friends and family coming round for Christmas day. This legislation is going to have a dangerous pingdemic effect, either through a proper pingdemic or just through the effect of fear. I asked the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), who spoke for the SNP and is knowledgeable on these matters, whether we might be able to get a new lateral flow test that is specific to omicron, but I think the answer is possibly no. We are in a confused state and I am concerned that the regulations will shatter businesses that are getting ready for Christmas. With the support of Opposition parties, sadly the regulations are likely to go through.

Mark Harper gave another excellent speech.

First, he pointed out that the NHS was not under strain from coronavirus patients, the usual rationale for restrictions, but rather a backlog of patients who could not be treated during the pandemic:

… it is not facing pressure from the number of patients in hospital because of covid, which is around 6% of total bed capacity. The NHS is under enormous pressure dealing with the significant number of patients who were both unable to be treated and scared away from the national health service during the pandemic. We must be careful not to repeat the mistake and scare away a whole new set of patients, as it will take the NHS another very significant period of time to deal with them. There is nothing about the measures that she suggested that will deal with those pressures; they will just make them worse.

He deplored the lack of evidence for the Government’s coronavirus decisions:

I listened carefully to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), and I agree that it is disappointing that we have moved away from a model where the Government lay out the evidence and the arguments and allow people to make their own decisions. That was a big choice that the Government made last year, and I am very disappointed that they have moved away from it. Weighing against that—this was set out very clearly by the Chairman of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), and my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), a distinguished former public health Minister—is that at least those regulations have quite a tight expiry date, and they will expire in three weeks’ time. Although I do not like the move back to mandating, I am prepared on this occasion—balancing up the pressures, and because there is an expiry date—not to oppose the regulations, but I will not support them either.

In the end, he voted against the self-isolation regulations.

He was also concerned about the expiry date occurring during Christmas recess, favouring a recall, if necessary:

My final point is the one that I made yesterday. Ministers have said that they will review the measures in three weeks’ time, as of yesterday. That would be 20 December, when the House will have risen for the Christmas recess—I touched on this in my intervention on the Opposition spokesman. If any of the measures are to be extended, or if further measures are to be brought in, it would be unacceptable for Ministers to do it by decree, which is effectively what the Minister at the Dispatch Box did with these two orders. They should be brought forward to this House for a debate in advance of their coming in. If we have to sit in the days running up to Christmas, so be it. Many people in this country work over the Christmas period in many industries serving the public. We are better paid than most of those people, so if we have to come here and do our jobs, working on behalf of the public, to scrutinise the laws that affect their lives, then I for one am very happy to do so. It would be a failure of the responsibilities that Ministers have if they do not seek to keep the House sitting or recall it if they wish to take those powers. Ministers are accountable to the House and to our constituents through us, and they would be wise never to forget it.

You can watch his speech here:

Steve Baker followed Mark Harper.

He has been consistently concerned about the erosion of civil liberties:

the issue is that we are taking away the public’s right to choose what they do, based on flimsy and uncertain evidence. We do not know the extent to which this new variant will escape the vaccines and we do not know how harmful it would be. This debate goes to the heart of the nature of the society that we are creating.

… now that we have got the case fatality rate down to a comparable level with that of flu, we should be living with coronavirus like we live with flu. As my hon. Friend asked, are we going to manage other diseases like this?

Let me turn to the point that I really want to flesh out. The Government’s approach seems to be to say, “Better safe than sorry. You can’t be too careful.”. The trouble is that we really can be too careful. There is a problem that I call tunnel vision and my friend, Professor Paul Dolan from the London School of Economics, calls situational blindness, whereby we end up looking only at the disease. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester [Steve Brine] has set out brilliantly the harm that will be done to children. I cannot begin to understand the psychological harm to children of being in masks all the time; we cannot go back and repeat the experience of a missed nativity play, and so on …

Where is the hope from the Government? I know young people who are demoralised and depressed, and who have been telling me that we will go back into lockdown, and I have been saying, “No, because the vaccines are working and I do not believe that Conservative Ministers will do this to us”, but we have already started to see the scope creep, the mission creep, and the goalposts perhaps being slightly unshackled from the ground, ready to be moved.

Today’s debate is not about face coverings or the coming pingdemic through self-isolation measures. It is about how we react and the kind of nation and civilisation that we are creating in the context of this new disease. What is the relationship between the state and the individual? Are we to be empty vessels or mere automata—things to be managed, as if a problem? Or are we free spirits with, for want of a better term, a soul? We are free spirits with a soul—people who deserve the dignity of choice and the meaning in our lives that comes from taking responsibility. It is possible that meaning in our lives comes from little else. This is a fundamental choice between heading towards heaven and heading towards hell. If we continue to react to these fears and uncertainties by taking the authoritarian course, without impact assessments—because the regulations are only temporary, you know—we are embarked on that downward course.

Even loneliness shortens lives. Again, Paul Dolan has been very clear with me that loneliness cuts lives short, and yet we find an official going beyond Government policy to say that we should not have unnecessary socialising. The most extraordinary set of choices are being taken because of an overwhelming, narrow focus on the one issue of coronavirus. It falls on Ministers to provide the lead, the breadth of thinking, the vision and the values to set out what broad kind of society we are trying to create. Where are we going as a society and civilisation? What will be our redemption and salvation? How will we provide that hope for our future? I believe that it will be by having faith in one another. The public are not fools. We are not here to govern idiots. I have faith in the British public that they can choose for themselves to do the right thing: to wear a mask when it is sensible, to pay attention to the level of cases, to choose for themselves whether they go to a restaurant, and, indeed, to choose whether they visit vulnerable relations in care homes—I could tell a sad story about that point …

He then told the story of a constituent who is currently stuck in South Africa without accommodation and badly needs a refill of his anti-anxiety medication.

Steve Baker concluded:

There is no plausible path set out before us that leads to a genuine public health emergency, yet the Government are choosing to react in this way. As a result, I am afraid that the Government are choosing that downward path towards, frankly, hell—the hell of minute management of our lives by edict, with nothing that we can do about it and not even a say in advance in Parliament—and, incredibly, a clear majority of this House is going along with it. Some of us today have to take a decision to vote no to everything. I, for one, intend to chart a course towards heaven, and I hope that hon. Members will come with me.

You can see his speech here:

Bob Seely’s speech criticised Neil Ferguson’s deeply flawed modelling over the past 20 years:

I want to look particularly at Imperial College and Professor Ferguson. I have a great deal of respect for them and I will be careful how I phrase this, but I am concerned that some of the forecasting we have had has had a track record in, frankly, getting it wrong repeatedly. In 2001, Professor Ferguson predicted 150,000 human deaths from foot-and-mouth; under 200 died. In 2002, he predicted between 50 and 50,000 deaths from BSE; in the end, 177 died. In 2005, he said that 150 million people could be killed by bird flu; 282 died. In 2009, a Government estimate based on his advice said that a “reasonable worst-case scenario” for swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths; in the end, 457 people died. I am happy to be corrected on any of those points, but that is the publicly available information.

Moving forward to covid, Ferguson predicted 85,000 deaths in Sweden; in fact, 6,000 Swedes have died. Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, said in September 2020:

“We looked at the”

Imperial

“model and we could see that the variables that were put into the model were quite extreme…Why did you choose the variables that gave extreme results?

I love experts—don’t get me wrong; I know we sometimes have our issues with them—but it is helpful if they are right, if only very occasionally. Johan Giesecke, Sweden’s former chief epidemiologist, said that Ferguson’s models were “not very good”. The Washington Post quoted Giesecke as saying that Imperial’s forecasts were “almost hysterical”. This is the forecasting that has been, in part, driving Government action.

In this country, oncology professor Angus Dalgleish, in this country, described Ferguson’s modelling as “lurid predictions”. He said that Ferguson and his colleagues were getting it “spectacularly wrong”. He said:

“Unfortunately, we have a Sage committee advising a government that is devoid of any scientific expertise, on speculative concepts such as the R number”

which we now all know is the reproductive rate—

“and the need for everyone to stay indoors, even though the evidence strongly suggests that people are less likely to catch Covid-19 outside.”

So some of the scientific evidence may have actually driven the rising covid rates in the same way that going into hospital may have been the place that people caught covid and died from it.

Viscount Ridley has criticised Ferguson’s modelling. Lund University has applied Ferguson’s models and found a massive difference between his predictions and what actually happened. Professor Michael Thrusfield from Edinburgh University said that Ferguson’s previous modelling of foot-and-mouth was “severely flawed”.

Bob Seely gave many more examples. He then said:

Every time Professor Ferguson’s forecasts have been verifiable, they have been seen to be very badly flawed, and this is a serious man and a serious university.

He concluded:

We need a precautionary principle, but we need a sense of balance so that we do not overstep the mark, damage our society, damage our young people and damage poorer people by seeking to control when we need to learn to live with this. My final question to the Minister is: will the Government look into forecasting and perhaps hold an inquiry into the success of forecasting and what we can learn from it, so that we do it less badly in future?

Dr Andrew Murrison, who is a practising physician, voted for the mask restrictions but against the isolation ones.

He remains concerned about the long term effects of these measures on the public and businesses:

While they have been happy to go along with some of the impositions that we have had over the past 18 months, they are now coming to the point where they are thinking, “This could basically be the new normal. This will go on and on, and on what basis will we continue to invest in our businesses if every few months we have these kinds of things and goodness knows what else that may follow?” I am worried about that.

I am also deeply worried, as other hon. and right hon. Members have pointed out, about this “suspected of” bit. That seems to me to be rather clumsy and I am not comfortable with it. Presumably, anybody showing any coronavirus symptoms could be “suspected of” having the omicron variant

The Government are right to be cautious—of course they are—but we also need a sense of proportion. We need to understand that everything we do in this place with regard to regulation has a consequence for liberty and livelihoods, for the economy in general and for young people in particular. I made that point in connection with the apparent suggestion of the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) that it was a no-cost measure. We need to be careful about the impact that it all has on young people and especially on mental health.

This is so depressing. It is hard to predict how this will affect Boris in polling. Surprisingly, many people in England support the restrictions.

Tomorrow’s post will look at the reaction around England to the new restrictions.

This week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponed Freedom Day from June 21 to July 19, 2021.

Although a vote on this passed comfortably on Wednesday, June 16 — 489 to 60 — the number of rebel MPs, mostly Conservative, increased compared with previous votes on coronavirus restrictions. This page shows who voted No.

Boris and Matt Hancock might want to rethink their dependence on the lefty scientists of SAGE, but will they?

SAGE are effectively running this nation … into the ground.

Chesham & Amersham by-election upset

In addition, on Thursday, June 17, the Conservatives lost a by-election in Chesham & Amersham in leafy Buckinghamshire, not far from London. It had been a safe Conservative seat since the 1970s. A journalist from the Financial Times tweeted that he was sure they would win it once again:

In reality, it was a hat made out of fabric. Jim Pickard took three small bites of it, washed down with water. Sensible, as it could have been made in the world’s largest manufacturing country (no prizes for guessing correctly). H/T Guido Fawkes:

Now they have a Liberal Democrat MP, the lady pictured below standing next to party leader Ed Davey MP. The reply to the tweet blames the win on local opposition to a high speed railway (HS2) and to extending lockdown:

However, the Lib Dems never really opposed HS2:

The by-election took place because Dame Cheryl Gillan MP died on April 4. Despite a long term illness, she was an active participant in parliamentary debates until the end.

According to a Guido Fawkes reader, this was the vote tally on Thursday compared with 2019’s general election:

2019 results:

Conservative 30,850

Lib Dems 14,627

Labour 7,166

2021 Votes:

Conservative 13,489

Lib Dems 21,517

Labour 622

The only consolation is that the Labour vote sank like a stone:

Coronavirus cases rise in Cornwall after G7 summit

The virus lives and is on the rise in Cornwall:

In addition to the G7 and half term, another factor could be the warm weather last Sunday, attracting people to beaches.

Guido Fawkes has maps and the figures (emphasis in the original):

Last week, both St. Ives and the Carbis Bay area had two positive cases respectively. Now, St. Ives has 36 cases, and Carbis Bay has 15. That’s a 1,700% increase in the former, and a 650% rise in the latter…

One of Guido’s readers replied that a hotel and university are responsible (emphases mine below):

Tosh. The rise in St Ives/Carbis Bay happened before G7 kicked off and was down to the staff in one hotel and is linked back to the plastic University at the top of Penryn.

Cases, however, are only positive tests. Not all should require hospitalisation.

Wednesday’s vote in Parliament

On Wednesday, June 16, Matt Hancock opened the debate on coronaivirus restrictions in the House of Commons.

He said, in part:

Thanks to the protection of the vaccination programme, huge advances in treatments like dexamethasone, which was discovered a year ago today, and the resolve of the British people in following the rules that this House has laid down, we have been able to take the first three steps on our road map, removing restrictions and restoring colour to the nation, but we have always said that we would take each step at a time and look at the data and our four tests before deciding whether to proceed. The regulations before the House today put into effect our decision to pause step 4 on our roadmap until 19 July. Before outlining the regulations that will put this into effect, I would like to set out why we made this difficult but essential decision.

Unfortunately, there has been a significant change since we started on our journey down the road map in February. A new variant has given the virus extra legs, both because it spreads more easily and because there is some evidence that the risk of hospitalisation is higher than for the alpha variant, which was, of course, previously dominant in this country. The delta variant now accounts for 96% of new cases. The number of cases is rising and hospitalisations are starting to rise, too—they are up 48% over the past week. The number of deaths in England is thankfully not rising and remains very low, but, as I told the House on Monday, we do not yet know the extent to which the link between hospitalisations and deaths has been broken, so we propose to give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them.

Mark Harper (Con) intervened:

Can I just ask my right hon. Friend what we expect to achieve in the four weeks? I think I am right in saying that there are 1.3 million people in priority groups one to nine who have yet to have a second dose of the vaccination. The good point is that that means we have vaccinated 96% of people in those groups, but I just wonder—after four weeks, I doubt that we will get to 100%, so there will still be a significant number of people in those groups not vaccinated with two doses, and at that point, there is still going to be some risk. My worry, and the worry of others, is that we are going to get to this point in four weeks’ time and we will just be back here all over again extending the restrictions. That is what we are concerned about.

Hancock said he was sure that four weeks would be sufficient. He’s said that before.

Steve Baker (Con) also intervened:

Is not the problem with the two-week checkpoint that it creates another moment of hope for people who still feel even these restrictions very acutely, and that if we create hope and then shift the goalposts again, people will continue to deepen their despair? What will he say to those people?

Hancock said the public understood the reasons for the delay.

After Hancock finished speaking, it was the turn of the Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Lab) to respond.

Ashworth largely agreed with the Government’s extension to Freedom Day, but he rightly posed questions, such as this one:

Will we continue wearing masks?

At which point, Desmond Swayne (Con), who wears a silk scarf instead of a mask, shouted:

No!

Steve Brine (Con), former Public Health minister, intervened, recalling a bad flu year:

The right hon. Gentleman is right: we had a battle royal with influenza in the first year that I was in the job, but the difference was that we did not have any non-pharmaceutical interventions. Our interventions were about the take-up of the vaccine—yes, for children as well as for adults, especially the vulnerable. One of our chief advisers, the deputy chief medical officer then, one Professor Chris Whitty, never suggested masks, let alone closing schools—just a really good roll-out of the flu vaccine. We lost 22,000 people that year. Never were those numbers rolled on BBC News; never did we know the R number, but there was a point where we accepted an element of risk in society. I guess that was the point of my earlier intervention on the hon. Gentleman: what element of risk is he prepared to accept? Because that is what it comes down to—our own mortality is part of the human condition.

Ashworth replied, in part:

I do not want to see it done by some of the wider restrictions and lockdowns that we have heard about. That is why I would be interested to know whether the Department has developed plans for restrictions this winter and whether the Secretary of State has been discussing that with Whitehall colleagues.

Mark Harper intervened again:

On the point about the restrictions, I know that those discussions are going on because I have seen documents from within Government with very detailed suggestions about what measures may continue. I asked the Secretary of State about this when he was in the Commons earlier this week, and he did not rule out bringing in restrictions this winter. That is partly why some Conservative Members are very concerned and why we are not going to vote for these regulations today. However, I want to take the right hon. Gentleman back to his comments on what Chris Hopson said about the fact that the NHS is very busy at the moment. There is a danger here. I am very sympathetic to colleagues who work in the NHS, who have done a fantastic job, but we cannot get to a point where we restrict and manage society in order to manage NHS waiting lists. That is not the right way round. The NHS is there to serve society. If we need to enable it to do that, we have to think of a way of doing it other than putting restrictions on the rest of society. That is not a sustainable or a desirable position, but it is the logical consequence of what Chris Hopson was saying earlier this month.

Here’s the video, which begins with Ashworth sitting down to give way to Harper:

Ashworth replied, beginning with this:

Even though we will find ourselves in different Lobbies this evening, I think there is more in common between us than perhaps one might expect. I do not want restrictions to remain in place for any longer than they need to. I want to move to a system where we are trying to push down covid infection rates by, yes, rolling out vaccination as far and as fast as possible to everybody, but also putting in place the proper framework so that those who are ill or a contact of someone who has been ill with covid is able to isolate themselves.

He took more interventions from Conservative MPs, then concluded:

The House is being asked to extend these restrictions, but there are a number of pressing issues. First, many of us have been contacted by business people in our constituencies who are deeply concerned about the extension of these restrictions. For my constituency in Leicester, which has been living under a form of restrictions more severe than other parts of the country, other than perhaps parts of Greater Manchester, this has been particularly devastating. I hope that the Government will be putting in place full support for businesses such as mine in Leicester and Greater Manchester and elsewhere.

The second issue, which we have touched on a little bit, is whether these restrictions will ever end, or whether the Prime Minister has trapped us in Hotel California, where we can never leave. He has talked about 19 July as the terminus date, but the explanatory notes themselves say that the four tests will apply on 19 July, and that these four weeks will be used to gather more data.

Hancock said later on that July 19 is still the terminus date and that data would be examined in two weeks’ time.

The general debate took off from there, with Sir Desmond Swayne (Con), the original rebel, the first to speak. He criticised SAGE and one of its members, Susan Michie, the Communist:

I never believed that it was proportionate, even from the outset, for Ministers to take such liberties with our liberty. I always thought that it was wrong for them to take our freedoms, even though they believed that they were acting in our best interests in an emergency, but by any measure that emergency has now passed and yet freedoms are still withheld and the Government will not allow us to assess for ourselves the risks that we are prepared to encounter in our ordinary, everyday lives. The Government do not trust the people whom they govern.

Many members of SAGE—a misnomer if ever there was one—have been out busily undermining public morale. One of them even shared her dystopian vision that we must all remain masked and distanced in perpetuity—a shocking, horrible prospect. The fact is that once the consequences of this virus in terms of their financial and health impacts have long been addressed, the moral impact will remain. The Government have set a disastrous precedent in terms of the future of liberty on these islands. I could understand it if we were a communist party, but this is the party that inherited the true wisdom of the Whig tradition. This is the party of Margaret Thatcher, who said that liberty was indivisible. This is the party that only recently elected a leader whom we believed was a libertarian. There is much on which we are going to have to reflect.

Here is the video of his remarks:

Smoking also came up in the debate:

Sir Charles Walker (Con), another early rebel, spoke. He wants a reform of SAGE. Excerpts follow:

I wish to try to be constructive about how we can improve SAGE. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, SAGE has huge power over our lives. It has power over whom we hug and hold. It has power over which businesses open and which businesses close. In essence, it has power over who keeps their job and who loses their job. We, too, in this place have great power, but our power is matched by accountability.

Accountability is very important in the exercising of power, so I want to suggest some reforms to SAGE—some quite technical reforms. First, there is a need for greater financial transparency from members of SAGE in line with that expected of Members of Parliament. For example, I think when we look at SAGE members, we should be able to see what their annual income is—not only from their substantive job, but from their pensions accrued or the pensions they might well be in receipt of. This is something that is freely available for all Members of Parliament. I think we should also know and constituents should know if they have any significant shareholdings in companies, in the same way that our constituents know if we have significant shareholdings in companies. We could also look at whether they get other forms of income—from rent, for example

in the case of young people, many SAGE experts say that young people should be working from home. We know that young people are now tied to their small kitchen table or in their bedroom in miserable environments—the new dark satanic mills—and working endless hours in appalling circumstances, because people with nice gardens and comfortable homes think that is what they should be doing.

There should also be far greater personal accountability. There should be no more, “Here is Sir Mark Walport—of SAGE, but here in a personal capacity”. Nonsense! He is there because he is a member of SAGE. We should also have elections to SAGE, so we could see Sir Mark Walport, Professor Susan Michie, John Edmunds and regular talking heads in our TV studios challenged by people with a different perspective—people such as Professor Karol Sikora, Professor Paul Dolan, who is an expert on human behaviour and quality of life, and Professor Ellen Townsend, who has a huge interest in the welfare of children and adolescents who are now being plagued by anxiety and eating disorders …

So here it is: full financial disclosure from members of SAGE and full elections, or they advise the Government, and if they do not want to do that, but want to advise TV studios, they do that, but they do not do both.

Here is the video of his speech in full:

Graham Stringer (Lab), also a rebel, spoke next. He rightly said that MPs do not have enough scientific data to make an informed decision about restrictions. Excerpts follow:

As ever, it is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker). On his interesting point about SAGE, we could do with full disclosure from the Government about all the facts that they have available to them on covid. In the Science and Technology Committee this morning, we were told that vaccinations have saved 14,000 lives. I have no doubt that that is an accurate figure, but there are many figures that have not been given. As we said the last time we debated this issue, only one side of the equation is given. Let me ask this question: how many lives have been lost in order to save capacity in the NHS? When it comes to looking at people untested and untreated for cancer, heart disease and other diseases, we will find that the figures are of a similar, if not greater, magnitude than the number of people who have died from covid …

There is a great deal more information that we require in order to make a rational decision about whether the lockdown should continue. I agree with the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) that what we have here is the Government asking for emergency powers when there is no longer an emergency

The Government have refused on a number of occasions to give out that information. They have run a campaign to scare people into accepting their decisions

One of the things that has annoyed me most in the last 15 months is when the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care say, “We instruct you”—meaning the population—“to do various things,” when there is nothing in the legislation that would give the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister the ability to instruct individuals. We live in a liberal democracy in which we pass laws that are enforced by the police, and then the courts make a decision if there is a prosecution, not one in which the Secretary of State acts like some kind of uniformed Minister of the Interior.

I will vote against the regulations today. We need a more direct debate on the issue and we need what Members have searched for—a straightforward comparison, with real statistics, of what risks everybody faces.

Steve Baker (Con) agreed with Mark Harper about society and the NHS:

I refer the House to the declarations that I have made relating to the Covid Recovery Group.

No one can deny the brilliance of the Government’s—the NHS’s—vaccination programme. By mid-April, the over-50s and the vulnerable had had their first vaccination, and overwhelmingly they have now had their second. That is reflected in the Office for National Statistics antibody data, which shows extraordinary levels for anyone over 50. Antibodies are there in that population, which is vulnerable to the disease.

That brings me to the best case that the Government could make for the regulations before the House, which is that the ability of the NHS to provide other healthcare could be compromised by admissions from a younger population, because a small percentage of a big number is still a big number. But the huge problem with that is that it concedes the point that our liberties can be used to manage the capacity of the NHS. I cannot concede that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) said, that is not the way in which we should be going as a society. If the restrictions that we are extending had been proposed for that purpose in the past, we would never have accepted them.

In Wycombe, people have of course been dutifully washing their hands, covering their faces and keeping social distancing rules, yet early in this pandemic, I remember one dear, sweet, older lady was beside herself with anxiety at the thought of having to go about her ordinary life with her face covered, and look at us now, taking it for granted. This is not normal. This is the dystopia that I stood here and forecast on the day we went into lockdown

One of the most important things that we have learned from Mr Cummings’ leaked WhatsApp messages is that it seems that the Government have been significantly influenced by polling. I fear we have had a real doom loop here between polling and policy making, which has driven us into a disastrous position. We now must not tolerate lockdowns being perpetually on the table. We must not tolerate a situation going on where we and the police are unclear about what the law is and how it should be applied. Imagine that you can hug but not dance—what madness is this? We cannot tolerate a situation any more in which a Government social scientist told the author of the book “A State of Fear” that the Government had used unethical techniques of behavioural science to deliver a policy which he said, in his own words, “smacks of totalitarianism”.

We have transformed this society for the worst. We have it put in place a culture and habits that will take years to shake off and that distance people from one another and diminish their quality of life and the quality of relationships that they have with one another. High streets are in danger of becoming haunted alleyways. We are in danger of hollowing out and destroying the entertainment industry—much of what makes life worth living. Today’s vote will go through—it is a foregone conclusion—but as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) implied, if the Conservative party does not stand for freedom under the rule of law, in my view, it stands for nothing. We have got to have a turning point. We have got to recapture a spirit of freedom.

Mark Harper spoke later on, at which point the Labour benches were empty. It is important for Britons reading this post to look at what he has uncovered. The Government continue to be dishonest not only with MPs but also the public:

Well said!

Please also note the following about winter. Meanwhile, Democrat-run New York and California are now open:

May our merciful God help the UK out of this unholy mess.

Yesterday’s post was about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cancellation of England’s Christmas celebrations.

Not surprisingly, there was quite a bit of fallout on Sunday, less than 24 hours after he made the announcement at a press conference.

Before I get into that, here is a bit of context from last week, before the cancellation of Christmas.

Dan Wootton from The Sun and talkRADIO pointed out that Boris, his Cabinet and the SAGE scientists love lockdown:

Barrister Francis Hoar says that asymptomatic transmission of the virus is a falsehood:

Lockdown’s effect on the economy — especially at Christmas — is highly damaging:

This diagram, which has been going viral, is one that must be carefully read and digested:

Here it is in full:

The next sequence of tweets from Francis Hoar followed Boris’s press conference on Saturday, December 19:

He had a go at Matt Hancock — excellent:

Telegraph cartoonist Bob Moran’s reacted strongly to Boris’s announcement:

A pathologist agrees:

Earlier on Saturday … the media already knew about Tier 4

Once again, someone working for the Government leaked lockdown plans to the media.

This has happened throughout the year, with MPs understandably angry that they were not told first. They should be told first because, by rights, they should be voting on such measures.

Boris and Matt Hancock have enforced a measure that will have no scrutiny, as MPs left for Christmas recess at the end of the day on Thursday, December 17.

The news emerged in the Daily Mail, somewhat obscured in an article about allegedly faulty home testing kits for COVID-19 (emphases mine):

Officials are said to be planning a draconian Tier Four regime which would see shops shut and commuters ordered to work from home

They are alarmed by a surge in virus cases since the second lockdown ended more than two weeks ago. 

A Government source told the Daily Mail last night that the Tier Four proposal was back on the table after being rejected by ministers last month.  

‘We are not there yet but we are clearly in a worrying situation,’ the insider said.

‘It probably starts with closing non-essential retail and strengthening the work from home message.

‘But there are lots of things you could add to that – it’s still early days.’ Other sectors likely to be considered for closure in Tier Four include gyms, swimming pools and hairdressers.  

That’s exactly what Boris announced.

This news travelled quickly on Saturday before the press conference. Publican Adam Brooks tweeted:

It doesn’t matter what the public think about another lockdown. By now, we all know it’s crippling the economy:

Yet, it seems our excess deaths are no greater than in years past:

This is what will happen:

The Government do not care.

Don’t think you can protest, either. The police will be out in force, at least in London. This protest took place before the press conference:

During the press conference later that day, Boris and SAGE’s Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance spoke of the mutating virus. What if it were modelled on a computer?

How much do we really need to worry?

Dr Yardley Yeadon is a pharmacologist and worked for Pfizer for many years as their Vice President of Respiratory Research. He is sceptical:

A consultant neurologist also objects to lockdown:

He retweeted this photo of a railway station in central London:

He commented:

Conservative rebel MPs are angry

On Sunday, December 20, the Mail on Sunday (MoS)reported that Conservative rebel MPs were deeply unhappy with Boris’s announcement.

Among them was Mark Harper, one of my favourites.

The MoS article stated:

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs which has been highly critical of the Government’s strategy, called for Parliament be recalled so MPs could debate and vote on the changes

‘Given the 3 tier system and the initial Christmas household rules were expressly authorised by the House of Commons, these changes must also be put to a vote in the Commons at the earliest opportunity, even if that means a recall of the House,’ he said.

Mr Harper called the announcement a ‘very sad day’, saying that the system of tiered restrictions had ‘failed in their goal of slowing the transmission of Covid.’ 

‘Government is expecting people to sacrifice the chance to share Christmas with family, friends and loved ones, just a few days after promising the opposite,’ he continued.

‘If the Government wants the support of the public and Parliament, it must publish a clear exit strategy from this nightmarish, cycle of damaging lockdowns and restrictions.’

On Saturday, Harper had tweeted the video of a speech he had made in the Commons recently:

He has often asked Matt Hancock what the exit plan is. Hancock fluffs the question every time, saying ‘This is the exit plan’, meaning massive vaccine rollout:

William Wragg, another rebel, tweeted his agreement:

He rightly took exception to Matt Hancock’s comments on a Sunday news show about the crowded London railway station:

Steve Baker also commented, but on an article in the MoS that the paper edited. Baker and Mark Harper objected to the paper’s edits. I agree with the reply:

Below are excerpts from the Harper-Baker article as the latter posted on his website: ‘Our response to Covid must be rational and balanced, not driven by panic’. Excerpts follow:

First, we want to know for sure that these restrictions are serving their primary purpose of slowing the spread of Covid. If they are not, we would be failing in our duty to protect people from the disease, to protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed and needlessly grinding our economy into the dust.

We had a full national lockdown in November. Since early December, 99 per cent of the country has been living under the heightened restrictions of Tiers 2 and 3. New rules yesterday, which were announced on Thursday, forced four to five times as many people across the country into Tier 3 than before the November lockdown.

There is no logic in having a lockdown only for millions more people and businesses to have to live and operate under increasingly severe restrictions afterwards. And it is even harder to stomach when there is no transparency or logic from Government about what the criteria are for moving areas between or down the tiers.

This strategy is clearly failing at breaking the transmission of Covid. If it was succeeding, we would be talking about an exit strategy from repeated lockdowns or about areas moving down the tiers. Right now, the only way is up.

Second, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense social and health damage and have a huge impact on people’s livelihoods. From people not presenting for treatment and deteriorating mental health to the impact on young people’s education, job prospects and our country’s soaring debts, lockdowns and restrictions cost lives. The cure we’re prescribing runs the risk of being worse than the disease.

That’s why we have repeatedly asked Government for regional cost-benefit analysis showing the non-Covid health impact and the impact on society, people’s livelihoods and businesses of all these measures. Are these restrictions saving more lives than they cost? It’s a fair and reasonable question for any of us to ask. And this call for data and evidence should have applied to the rules for Christmas too.

Earlier this month, the Government legislated to allow for festive “bubbles” without social distancing over the Christmas period. And now there’s been a last minute ditching of these plans and a cancellation of Christmas for vast swathes of the country

We cannot expect our citizens to tolerate living under a system of laws that changes so frequently, which avoids the usual democratic checks and balances and which is riddled with so much complexity and uncertainty. Any change to the laws on Christmas must be debated and approved by the House of Commons in advance, using a Recall if necessary. Parliament must not be bypassed.

The best Christmas present the Government could give the nation is a different, enduring and sustainable strategy for living with Covid that lasts beyond Christmas, which doesn’t ask people to pay a heavy price for their freedom. And that requires an exit strategy.

It’s great news that a vaccine is being rolled out to the most at risk groups around the country. But as this work begins, it is imperative that the Government sets out how this will translate into a return to normal in 2021 for us all.

Our final word comes from Matt Hancock, who tells concerned MPs they can vote on these measures in January. Good grief:

Oh, well. What goes around comes around. If I were Boris and Hancock, I wouldn’t be so blasé about evading parliamentary scrutiny.

Their actions might come back to bite them someday.

On Monday, October 12, 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a three-tier system for England in an attempt to make new coronavirus restrictions easier to understand:

He delivered a statement in Parliament and later addressed the nation. In the video clips below, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty is on the left and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is on the right:

These plans run for the next six months:

Earlier that day, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam presented an update. It is unnerving when SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) members make an announcement of upcoming health policy before the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. They did this on September 21 as well, against a Government backdrop. They have official permission to do so, but it is unsettling to see. It looks as if they are in charge. Perhaps they are.

Hmm.

I very much agree with this tweet about SAGE members who are physicians, such as the aforementioned three men (emphases mine below):

‘Drs’ go into epidemiology and PH because they want the same salary as the frontline grafters without the hours, stress or risk.

So, how accurate were Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming projections from September? Not very accurate at all, as many people in England suspected three weeks ago, and deaths are thankfully minimal compared to springtime statistics:

The SAGE members spoke on Monday morning. Boris addressed MPs that afternoon.

The Conservative MP for Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan, rightly pointed out that a Conservative government should let citizens make informed choices for themselves:

As Conservatives, we often speak of levelling up. However, now is the time to level with the British people. There is no silver bullet. All measures to stop the spread of covid have painful effects on our economy, social lives and mental wellbeing. Voices on the Opposition Benches believe that British people are incapable of understanding complex issues such as Brexit. The Conservative party is the champion of individuals’ rights to make autonomous decisions without state interference. Will the Prime Minister double down on our party’s historic commitment to invest greater trust in the individual to decide what is best for themselves?

Boris gave his standard communitarian response:

Indeed, and I hope that the individual will also recognise that the risk that we carry—he or she carries—is not just to ourselves, but to the whole of the community because, in the end, we are all potential vectors of this disease and we may bring it inadvertently to someone who is more vulnerable than ourselves. That is the risk. That is why we are bringing in these measures, why we have had the package of measures that we have had throughout this pandemic, and why we now need to intensify them in some local areas now.

Boris answered over 100 questions in two hours. The session ended just before 6 p.m.

He addressed the nation on television at 7 p.m.

The adjournment debate in Parliament that evening revealed that the National Health Service would be more aptly named the National Covid Service.

Labour’s Fleur Anderson, who represents Putney in south west London, spoke about the continued closure of the Urgent Care unit at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton. Excerpts follow:

In August 1997, Queen Mary’s Hospital, which is in Roehampton, ended its A&E service, and has since had a minor injuries unit, which the trust gave a gold-standard accreditation in November last year. So there is no A&E service in my constituency. The minor injuries unit was upgraded to an urgent treatment centre, with a GP added to the excellent nurse practitioner staff, earlier this year. In a normal year, the centre serves 16,000 to 18,000 people, so it is a vital service in our community.

During the peak of the pandemic, the decision was taken to temporarily close the service because of a lack of space for social distancing and to be able to adhere to Government guidelines, and also to move the staff to other areas that needed them more. The pharmacy for out-patients has only recently been closed, and at very short notice. Of course I understand, as do local residents, that changes had to made and that health services had to adapt. I fully appreciate that our NHS managers had to make some extremely difficult decisions on service provision as they faced the prospect of being overwhelmed, which they are now facing again, with the second wave. The continued closure makes us in Roehampton feel overlooked, and it is putting additional pressures on NHS services at Teddington, the walk-in centre at Kingston, St George’s Hospital A&E and local GP surgeries. I am concerned that this will cause untold long-term damage to the health and wellbeing of our community.

I have been asked, “What about the person with the dislocated shoulder, the chest pain, the allergic reaction?” They all need to be assessed and stabilised urgently, but at the moment they are being turned away. I have met the chief executive of the hospital trust and raised these issues. I asked her to assure me that the centre would be reopened as soon as it was safe to do so, but she has not confirmed when it will reopen, if at all. That is very worrying. I hope to hear from the Minister this evening that he will support the trust in making plans to reopen the walk-in urgent treatment centre. 

I would like briefly to explain the impacts that the closure is having on local people. Anyone who goes to where the minor injuries unit used to be is asked to travel far away to the Teddington walk-in centre, to Kingston A&E or to St George’s A&E in Tooting. Those bus journeys can take an hour, which can result in painful journeys or in many people not making the journey, not being seen and not being treated. I am sure the Minister will agree that an hour on public transport is an unacceptably long journey time when there is a really good hospital right there in Roehampton, but it is just not open for walk-in urgent care. One of my constituents wrote to me this week to say:

I took my elderly father, who is nearly 90 years old, to Queen Mary’s just over a month ago, because he had cut his fingers quite badly and they were bleeding. The kind staff there had helped us when my father had a similar problem last year and they knew how to bandage his fingers because he has very thin skin…Because the Centre was closed, we had to go all the way to Kingston Hospital which was quite stressful. While his treatment there was good, it would have been far easier if we could have gone somewhere more local to him as my father isn’t used to travelling that far.”

Also, some patients are unable to travel or should not travel. An example is patients with diabetic foot ulcers, who should keep their activity to a minimum to allow ulcers to heal. At the same time, if they have an infection, it needs treating immediately as it could deteriorate rapidly leading to the need for amputation. That is one group of patients who are not getting the care they need because the urgent treatment centre and the pharmacy are not open. There is an obvious health risk to people needing to travel further if they are seriously ill.

There is also an increased risk of covid infection through asking people to travel greater distances by public transport during the pandemic, especially when they are unwell or chronically ill. They could have an underlying condition, which might be the reason they are going to the urgent care centre in the first place. That would make them more susceptible to the effects of covid-19. Closing the pharmacy is having the effect of delaying patients receiving treatment, as they are now being referred to their GP by the clinics. If they cannot immediately get an appointment with their GP, this can lead to delays of up to 48 hours before starting their treatment. That is another impact.

There is also a knock-on effect on services in other places. The fact that 16,000 to 18,000 people a year used to be treated at Queen Mary’s is putting pressure on St George’s and Kingston, along with the increasing demand at the momentGP surgery appointments are already at a premium, and this demand will only worsen as the difficult winter months approach. Even before the pandemic, it was reported that over 11 million patients had to wait more than 21 days for a GP appointment. In my constituency, there are 14 main surgeries and three branch practices. My team has called round all the local GP services. Several are still only doing appointments over Zoom, and in one local medical centre, a member of staff begged for the urgent care centre to reopen due to the pressure its closure is causing for GP surgeries.

Increased demand for overstretched GP surgeries with finite resources ultimately means fewer local people’s conditions or illnesses receiving treatment, and even more concerningly, serious and urgent illnesses such as cancer being missed and going undiagnosed. It is cancer diagnosis that I am particularly concerned about. As the Minister knows, lots of cancers are diagnosed when people present at hospital with a symptom. With the doors of the urgent treatment centre still closed, many cancers that might otherwise have been spotted will have been missed

Edward Argar, Minister for Health, responded on behalf of the Government:

… I am conscious that the trust has yet to set out a firm commitment to a reopening date, but I join the hon. Lady in saying that I hope it will set out its future plans as soon as possible. I am conscious that she has met the trust’s chief executive, Jacqueline Totterdell, to discuss these issues and plans for the reopening of the urgent treatment centre. Although that reopening date is still to be confirmed, I understand that the trust and local commissioners are undertaking work to agree a new covid-secure model of care before reopening, which is the right approach.

The hon. Lady highlighted not only the urgent treatment centre but its role in helping early diagnosis and treatment of cancers. I completely understand and recognise her concerns about the impact of the pandemic on cancer services and the importance of ensuring that cancers do not go undiagnosed. The NHS is working to restore the full operation of all cancer services, with local delivery plans being delivered by cancer alliances. Systems will be working with GPs and the public locally to increase the number of people coming forward and being referred with suspected cancer to at least pre-pandemic levels—I will come on to the performance of her local trust in a moment.

To support that, systems will help to ensure sufficient diagnostic capacity in covid-19-secure environments, through the use of independent sector facilities and the development of community diagnostic hubs and a rapid diagnostic centre. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that diagnostic capability is a considerable challenge, not least because, to put it perhaps a little bluntly, many diagnostic tests are very close and personal, and the equipment used is intimate in terms of looking inside the human body. The cleaning and infection control measures that are necessary between each patient make it challenging to see as many patients as would have been the case before the pandemic.

That last sentence worried my far better half, who asked, ‘Does that mean they weren’t cleaning between patients before coronavirus?’

After discussing cancer services, Argar discussed the Urgent Care pharmacy in question:

The hospital pharmacy is absolutely vital for people being able to have timely access to the medicines they need and being able to get them on site. Although people using it will have been treated and advised in hospital, they can none the less get very helpful advice from the pharmacy as well, so I share her view about the importance of that. As I have said, I include that in my offer to her—to discuss that with her and with the chief executive. I will endeavour to do that later this week …

I simply reiterate that I share the hon. Lady’s view that, where services for perfectly good and legitimate clinical reasons have been temporarily closed or altered, it is extremely important that they are reopened as soon as trusts are able to do so and, where in the future any changes are proposed, that they are subject to the usual full public consultation, engagement and consideration. I do not want to see temporary measures becoming permanent by default, and she can read that as perhaps an expression of my view on what is happening in Roehampton

I hope that I have been able to offer the hon. Lady some reassurances today. I thank her for securing the debate, and I very much look forward to meeting her

Fleur Anderson was reassured. I hope that Queen Mary’s Hospital gets back to full service soon.

The content of that debate was alarming.

Apologies for the digression, but this is the state of play for the NHS, or should I say NCS, not only in Roehampton but all over the nation. It is an absolute shambles.

Tuesday, October 13 — the almighty SAGE, no evidence needed

On Tuesday, October 13, Treasury Minister Steve Barclay laid out the Chancellor’s expanded plans for financial support during the continuing coronavirus crisis.

The 10 p.m. curfew for pubs was also voted on later that day.

Mel Stride, the Conservative MP representing Central Devon, asked for scientific evidence about the curfew:

My right hon. Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have done a great deal to support the economy, but there has to be a careful balance struck between protecting against the virus and avoiding further economic destruction. With that in mind, what scientific evidence has the Treasury received that closing pubs at 10 pm gets that balance right?

Steve Barclay did not answer the question and inadvertently pointed out SAGE’s woefully inaccurate modelling (see graph at the top of the post):

We have to balance the evidence that the Government receive from a range of quarters. My right hon. Friend will recall that when the initial advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies was put forward, the Government came forward with a range of measures, such as the rule of six and the curfew. Indeed, if we look at the projections that were made at that time, we see that we could potentially have had 49,000 or so daily cases by 14 October when in actual fact the figure on that date was 12,872. That indicates the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have had an influence. However, listening to the SAGE advice, it is recognised that we need to go further and that is why the tiered approach has been set out.

Mike Wood (Con, Dudley South) sounded the alarm about pubs in his West Midlands constituency:

A tenth of pubs have not reopened since lockdown in March while two thirds were already trading at a loss, even before restricted opening times, mandatory table service and the new restrictions announced yesterday. Will my right hon. Friend look at the support that is available for pubs that are not yet compelled to close, but are legally prevented from operating economically, and in particular state aid limits that threaten to prevent 10,000 pubs from receiving the support they need? Without that support, many thousands of pubs will close their doors and never reopen.

Barclay responded:

Ultimately, that is why the Chancellor set out the wider package of support, recognising the concerns he speaks of with the tax deferrals, the loans, the business rate support and the measures on VAT, which are targeted at the sector because of the very real concerns he correctly articulates.

Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) asked for evidence that compels swimming pools and gyms to close in some areas under the new restrictions:

Is there any specific evidence that swimming pools and gyms are centres for covid transmission? Has any research been done into rising obesity and unfitness levels, and has any research been done into rising unemployment caused by the closure of gyms and pools that is now happening in parts of the UK?

Barclay reiterated that those sectors were part of the reason for the Chancellor’s expanded support package. Again, he could not provide any scientific evidence:

In some ways, that is slightly more of a Health question than a Treasury question, but I recognise that there is read-across from those businesses into the economy. In short, the opinion of the chief medical officer and the chief scientific officer is that those businesses do carry significantly more risk, which is why they have been harder hit in the guidance that has been issued.

What if it turned out that Whitty and Vallance were as wrong about that as they are with their astronomically mistaken ‘case’ projections?

I fully agree with the assessment of Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough):

It is not surprising that more and more Members are calling for more Government support, because the Government are forcing more and more businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, out of business. The Chief Secretary says that his priority is to help business. The best way to help businesses is to let them get on and do business. We are going bankrupt as a nation—there will not be the money to pay for the NHS or pensions. What is the Treasury doing to row back against other parts of the Government and insist that we must allow British business to operate? He did not answer the question from the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride)—what is the scientific evidence for pubs closing at 10 o’clock? Is he leading the fight to help Britain to stay in business?

Barclay replied:

With respect, I did answer it. I pointed to the projection given by the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser at that time, the SAGE guidance and the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister has resulted in a lower infection risk. The CMO and others would recognise that this is a range of measures. My right hon. Friend says that the Government have gone too far and that there is no evidence for the curfew. The tenor of most of the questions one gets is that we have not moved far enough and should be taking more drastic actions. That speaks to the fact that this is a balanced judgment. One needs to look at the range of measures we are taking, and that is what I would refer him to.

After that, MPs debated then voted on all the new coronavirus measures. All passed, including the 10 p.m. curfew for pubs across the nation.

Matt Hancock delivered the statement which opened the debate.

He took strong exception to the Great Barrington Declaration:

Some people have set out this more relaxed approach, including those in the so-called Great Barrington declaration. I want to take this argument head on, because on the substance, the Great Barrington declaration is underpinned by two central claims and both are emphatically false. First, it says that if enough people get covid, we will reach herd immunity. That is not true. Many infectious diseases never reach herd immunity, such as measles, malaria, AIDS and flu, and with increasing evidence of reinfection, we should have no confidence that we would ever reach herd immunity to covid, even if everyone caught it. Herd immunity is a flawed goal without a vaccine, even if we could get to it, which we cannot.

Well, not all of us get flu every year, and, in the wide scheme of things, COVID-19 has a 99% survival rate.

I agree with Hancock’s second point about the impossibility of isolating older members in multi-generational households.

However, overall, Hancock really is in thrall to SAGE. They must be relishing the power they have over him:

John Redwood (Con, Wokingham) asked a simple question:

How long do the scientists think we will need these lockdowns for, and what is their exit plan?

Hancock had no real answer. The one he gave proves that lockdowns do not work. So much for SAGE advice:

We have seen the exit plan from local lockdowns. For instance, in Leicester, where we had a firm local lockdown, the case rate came right down. We lifted that and we have sadly seen it start to rise again. The case rate is determined by the amount of social mixing, and it reduces during a lockdown. In some parts of the country where the case rate has continued to rise, there is an argument for further ensuring that we do not reach the level of contact that is at the root of the virus spreading. The challenge is how to calibrate the lockdown to get the virus under control while doing the minimum damage to the economy and to education.

Huw Merriman (Con, Bexhill and Battle) pointed out the futility of a 10 p.m. curfew, as everyone pours out into the street and onto public transport at the same time:

The Secretary of State talks about a regulation on pubs closing at 10 o’clock, which has been in force for four weeks. There may be some undoubted positives for health, but we see some negatives with people amassing together on public transport and in the streets. Do the positives outweigh the negatives, as far as the science is concerned?

More waffle from Barclay, I’m sorry to say.

You can see some of Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth’s reply to Barclay in the video below. Ashworth says that the Government have not gone far enough, even if he opposes another full lockdown, or circuit-breaker, as it is now called.

The debate continued.

Addressing Matt Hancock, Dr Andrew Murrison (Con, Southwest Wiltshire), who is a physician, cautioned him against being closed-minded and advised looking at other voices in the medical world, including those of those who say that lockdown serves little purpose and should be confined to the vulnerable only:

I support these restrictions with a heavy heart. On balance, I will be supporting the Government this evening, but I want to make just a few quick points.

I would be very careful about subscribing to the Vallance/Whitty orthodoxy that informed these regulations, while not at all examining very carefully respectable bodies of medical opinion to the contrary. I would cite particularly the Heneghan/Sikora/Gupta line. It is important that the Secretary of State and his ministerial team address those things head-on and treat them with the respect that they deserve

We need to be careful about groupthink, confirmation bias, a thin evidential basis and uncertainty masquerading as certainty. There is a huge margin of uncertainty with all this, and we all need to develop a level of humility in our attitudes towards dealing with this crisis. That is why I shall be supporting the Government this evening …

In all this, we simply do not know and we are learning all the time. We have to accept, I think, the expertise of those advising Ministers and that we have experts for a reason, but there is an alternative view. Unless we get a vaccine—goodness me, I hope we do—I think we may find that the cure is worse than the disease in terms of lives lost directly to covid, incidental lives lost to other common diseases—stroke, heart attack and particularly cancer—loss of liberty, loss of livelihood and the compete trashing of our economy. That is what is at stake. I do not envy the Secretary of State in his work.

Labour’s John Spellar (Warley) made excellent points. I agree with every one of them:

There is a huge principle to be debated here. At the heart of it is the false dichotomy posed again by the Secretary of State today between hospitality and the economy and jobs, as though hospitality were not part of the real economy and millions of jobs did not depend on it. Tell that to the workers and businesses owners in pubs and clubs, restaurants and cafes, hotels and wedding venues, theatres and cinemas, betting shops, bingo halls and casinos and gyms, all of which are facing really hard times and challenges. They are facing closures, ruin and job losses on a massive scale. At the same time, as we heard earlier, Treasury support is weakening and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not only losing the cost of support but suffering a major loss of revenue.

Unfortunately, the approach seems to be driven less by deep analysis and more by the dreaded doctrine of “something must be done”. This is something; therefore we must do this irrespective of proportionality, outcome or impact. But this time it is even worse. It seems to be “something needs to be seen to be done” without any cost-benefit analysis or considering the impact on a beleaguered industry and a workforce facing mass redundancies. Accordingly, I and many other Members are unclear about the basis, either at a local or national level, of these proposals. The Chief Secretary talked earlier of anecdotes. I want a bit more than anecdotes.

Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, rightly said on Radio 4 today that a far better way than closures and curfews is to give powers to local councils to take rapid action to shut down non-compliant venues. In my authority of Sandwell, which has an enviable contact rate of 85% led by the excellent public health director Dr McNally, we have had one case linked to a hospitality venue, and that was early on in the pandemic in a pub in Smethwick. The Express & Star, our evening newspaper, investigated and found that across the Black Country, which is home to 1.25 million people, there have been just 10 such incidences of covid, again all early in the pandemic.

In his opening speech, the Secretary of State did not give an indication of how long he thinks this can go on. It could last almost indefinitely unless we develop a vaccine, an event that, as the Prime Minister candidly admitted yesterday, is uncertain and would not be 100% effective. One of the tests of an exit strategy is considering how we contain the virus if we are not able to eliminate it, as we have had to do with major diseases throughout history and as many of parts of the world still have to do today.

Steve Baker (Con, Wycombe) brought up the economic damage done and his support for the Great Barrington Declaration. He said that the Government must find a middle way:

three problems. The first is that a vaccine may not come. The second is that a vaccine may not be effective. The third is that all this is propped up on quantitative easing and ultra-cheap credit. Indeed, now we are reading in the newspapers about negative interest rates, and this is why I declared the interest. I think you have to have a peculiarly high level of economic education to believe that we can head towards £745 billion of QE and ultra-low or negative interest rates and that all this will not be a problem. I will not say any more about it. I think it will be a problem, and it is precarious indeed that the Government’s strategy is propped up on such a monetary policy

Personally, I think that privately the Government are a little more optimistic about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned, but here is the thing: even suppose the Government had vaccinated the public with a successful, safe vaccine by Easter or possibly the summer, that still leaves our economy and Government spending propped up on ultra-cheap credit. The problem with that is that the Bank of England has told us on the Treasury Committee that if inflation comes in it will have to, under its mandate, fight inflation. That would effectively mean pulling the plug on Government spending. This is precarious indeed …

For the reasons that I have given, I am convinced that the Government must find an alternative strategic plan between the Great Barrington declaration and where we are today.

All Government measures passed in the votes that night.

Labour’s mixed messages

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow cabinet are all over the shop.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Ashworth opposed a national lockdown, while saying that the Government were not going far enough with measures:

However, Labour leader Keir Starmer announced on national television that he wants a national lockdown, as Guido Fawkes points out (emphases in the original):

Why does Keir Starmer support imposing a national lockdown on areas with low Covid incidence whilst opposing regional lockdowns on areas with high Covid incidence? Whatever side of the argument you are on, surely it is clear that being on both sides of the argument at the same time makes no sense logically? Unless it is pure political opportunism…

Ashworth said, rightly that a national lockdown “would be disastrous for society… but I don’t believe anyone in the house is proposing that…” Hours later Starmer proposed precisely that…

Tiered lockdown: public money from taxpayers or private enterprise?

In closing, this is what is allegedly happening in Essex, which is just to the east of London. This is puzzling, because Essex has low positive test rates.

Adam Brooks is a publican:

Essex Council deny that money is involved. The councillor giving the following statement said that the Council is doing it for health, not financial, reasons:

Fair enough.

The leader of the Council issued this video announcement, which was not well received by Essex residents (read the replies):

Essex aside, on the subject of lockdown money, Laura Dodsworth has written a lengthy article for Spiked, ‘There’s a financial incentive for councils to lock down’.

She stands by her article:

She explains that Liverpool Council made sure they received commitment to a financial package from the Government before entering Tier 3:

Liverpool mayors Steve Rotheram and Joe Anderson said that they did not agree with some aspects of the Tier 3 lockdown, but were aware that government would bring in rules ‘with or without them’. And so rather than argue forcefully against lockdown, they negotiated to secure the best financial package possible.

This policy is not without its drawbacks:

The new funding package for councils is designed to alleviate the pain of lockdown, to sugar the pill. But the structure of the funding might end up providing local authorities with the ingredients to make lockdown cake indefinitely. It is specifically intended to support more testing, including door-to-door testing, sometimes with help from the military. But more testing leads to more cases. More cases lead to more lockdowns.

the funding is also going towards enforcement of lockdown regulations and self-isolation, which there are fines for breaching. That, in turn, raises more funds – the revenue from fixed-penalty notices, whether they are issued by local police, environmental-health officers or new Covid marshals, goes into local-authority coffers. In theory, the lockdown fixed-penalty fines should be going straight back into public health (as littering fines would go towards the environment). But, in reality, revenue from fines is not always that well ring-fenced in local authorities.

Liverpool Council is nearly broke:

Back in April, Liverpool council warned it was facing bankruptcy. It’s easy to appreciate that local leaders are anxious to secure funds to deal with the ongoing lockdown crisis. I am not suggesting that councils and local politicians would make calculated decisions to push areas into lockdown. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This financial model has the potential to become a vicious circle. Seasoned disaster-planner Lucy Easthope tells me: ‘There is a tendency in reactive disaster funding to create dependency and to actively avoid thinking through the long-term harms and over-reliance [on emergency funds].’

Allegedly, London is likely to be next:

It will be interesting to see how this turns out in the months to come. I hope that the Treasury have terms and conditions attached to this funding.

The end of the road for England’s pubs?

Since the smoking ban in 2007 and the financial crisis the following year, the number of pubs decreased from 50,000 to 39,000 in the UK. That was as of 2018.

Because of the earlier lockdown this year, more have no doubt closed — for good.

The new coronavirus regulations began on Wednesday, October 14:

Below is a video of the ‘last hurrah’, as my parents’ generation would have called it, in Liverpool, before Tier 3 regulations set in.

Regardless of what one thinks of the video, according to the pie chart, when workplaces and schools/universities are factored in, according to Public Health England, hospitality accounts only for 3 per cent of coronavirus ‘case’ sources:

Not all pubs have to close, but in order to stay open, they must serve ‘a substantial meal’, as in New York City. A packet of crisps or pork scratchings will not do. The Pub Curmudgeon said that the Government have not precisely defined the term ‘substantial meal’, which could be problematic.

Meanwhile, Adam Brooks, the aforementioned publican from Essex, has given an interview to Spiked:

More to come tomorrow on how his business has fared during the coronavirus crisis.

This week, a mini-rebellion erupted on the Conservative back benches over coronavirus.

More on that in a moment.

First, let’s have a look at Friday’s headlines.

As millions of Britons are worrying about their vanishing income, it is shameful that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, an independent body which oversees the system of allowances and salaries for Members of Parliament, decided to give them a pay rise! Incidentally, a Labour MP is shown in the photograph below:

Unconscionable!

Although the economy was starting to recover earlier in the summer when lockdown was lifted, things are different today:

It’s been a challenging year for Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who replaced Sajid Javid in March, just a fortnight before lockdown. He delivered a brilliant budget for a bright year ahead, then coronavirus struck.

Sunak is one of the contrarians on coronavirus and is said to prefer letting Britons get back to work.

That said, he has given billions in financial aid to the nation and delivered a Winter Economic Plan. However, pressure is on now to not only find a way to boost the Treasury’s coffers but also to provide extra financial support to the areas of the country which are under what seems to be permanent lockdown. The Huffington Post has more on today’s new measures.

These are the highlights:

This is his latest tax plan:

Hmm:

It’s a tough job, so I’m glad Rishi is in that post. He’s doing the best he can.

Next door, at No. 10 Downing Street, Rishi’s former aide Allegra Stratton has been named as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new press secretary. Conservative men across the nation had hoped for a Kayleigh McEnany, but we will wish Ms Stratton well in her new job:

Note how media and politics intertwine. Stratton is connected not only to Nos. 10 and 11 Downing Street but also to top adviser Dominic Cummings as well as to The Spectator:

Guido Fawkes says (emphases in the original):

Widely anticipated and always the bookies favourite, Allegra Stratton has been confirmed as the new Downing Street Press Secretary. Her experience as a television reporter on Newsnight, ITV News and with Peston will stand her in good stead. 40 year-old Allegra is married to the Spectator’s James Forsyth. They have one child. She has done a good job spinning for Rishi and he will miss her…

Bring on the briefings…

Stratton left ITV in April to work for Rishi:

I had bookmarked a tweet from ITV’s political editor Robert Peston a few months ago when No. 10 announced its search for a press secretary. Unfortunately, I subsequently deleted it. Peston tweeted that he knew of a perfect candidate, someone who had worked for him and was now working for Rishi Sunak: Allegra Stratton.

And, lo, it came to pass.

Here’s an interesting tweet from May, after Dominic Cummings had to give a press conference in the garden of No. 10 to apologise for his questionable trip up North to Barnard Castle (a town named for its castle) with his wife Mary Wakefield and their four-year-old son:

One of Cummings’s goals was to clear out No. 10 of Remainers in senior positions. Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, the most senior Remainer and the man in charge of civil servants, resigned during the summer.

Sedwill’s replacement is Simon Case, who used to work for Prince William:

Guido Fawkes has posted Case’s email to civil servants, popularly referred to as ‘mandarins’, and says:

Simon Case, Sir Mark Sedwill’s replacement as Cabinet Secretary, has got off to a strong start in the job by sending an email to all civil servants boasting of his ‘profound sense of pride in our nation’s history”, telling Whitehall staff “We must maintain our dedication to honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectivity.” Guido hopes counselling will be put in place for any distressed metropolitan mandarins at this time…

Now on to coronavirus.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon is putting much of that nation under a 16-day ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown (pubs shut, no alcohol in restaurants, no visiting) during half-term (break for schools). Yet she is decommissioning the Nightingale hospital in Glasgow. Why?

In England and Wales, questions have been raised about the new contact-tracing app:

Today (Friday), the Telegraph‘s Chief Political Correspondent Christopher Hope interviewed the Conservative MP, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who had a lot to say not only on coronavirus but also Brexit (he thinks large parts of the Withdrawal Agreement should be torn up if we want a Canada deal).

Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson will never defeat the coronavirus pandemic, Sir Iain Duncan Smith has said, and instead must start to help Britons to learn to live with the disease.

The former Conservative leader told today’s Chopper Politics podcast … : “‘I’ve never been to a time like this where we have almost suspended all judgement on everything else as secondary to Covid.

“And the truth is that if we go on just trying to push these spikes down the whole timethen we could be in this for years because there are very few vaccines that have been completely effective against viruses.”

Sir Iain said the focus on Covid meant that other risks were being completely ignored. He said that the problem was “we’ve lost the balance of risks. We now have only one risk. And if you think of only one risk, then you can damage everything around you.

He added that he thought the right course of action regarding coronavirus was “managing it but not expecting that, as people say, we can defeat this, because I honestly don’t think we will actually.”

YES!

The 30-minute podcast is here. Hope interviews other guests, too.

Conservative MPs are warning Boris not to take the votes of former Labour-supporting area lightly. Those areas, many of which now have Conservative MPs, are the ones most affected by semi-permanent lockdown:

Earlier in the week, the Government postponed a vote on the 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants in England. It has been rescheduled for next week:

Members of the public are understandably concerned. One summarised Boris’s speech at the (virtual) Conservative Party conference this week:

But I digress.

The reason the Government are picking on the hospitality sector is because of this chart, which MPs on both sides of the aisle dispute:

Hospitality venues are at the top of the list.

Note that schools and workplaces are not mentioned.

This is the reality, and this is what dissenting MPs are going by. Hospitality is ranked at 4 per cent (see pie chart):

The hospitality sector had to put a lot of money into their businesses in order to reopen during the summer, yet the Government is targeting them. That is also true in France, but we’ll stick with England for now:

I am very concerned about this eventuality:

Conservative MP Steve Baker talks a good game, but he voted with the Government this week to renew coronavirus restrictions.

ITV interviewed him yesterday:

ITV has excerpts of Baker’s interview:

Speaking to the Acting Prime Minister podcast, the MP said the rule is “badly evidenced and appears to be counter-productive”.

He said the rule, which forces pubs to close between 10pm and 5am, is “wrecking the hospitality industry, which we only just pumped lots of taxpayers money into through Eat Out to Help Out”.

He claimed the “cost of lockdowns are worse than the cost of the disease” and suggested the PM is only imposing them because of hopes of a vaccine “turning up and solving all these problems”.

He said he fears the UK is in “grave danger” of “jumping into a lobster pot here from which we can’t emerge” if a vaccine is not forthcoming.

“The danger we’re in at the moment is we’ll destroy our economy,” he told podcast host Paul Brand.

He said he supports Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his response to coronavirus, but questioned whether he is “betting the country on a vaccine turning up”.

“If his strategy is based on a vaccine coming, I think there’s going to be a problem,” he said.

The Wycombe MP appeared to suggest the team around the prime minister was not allowing him to use his strengths …

Mr Baker, who was a prominent Brexit supporter, said he “deeply” regrets the way the UK divided over EU membership and said he can feel the same happening with coronavirus.

I’m really worried that our society is polarising with hysterical arguments on both sides.

“What I am saying is I want us to have a radical spirit of concern for one another, a radical willingness to listen to one another and then be moderate in what we say and do to try and close all these, all these divides.” 

I agree wholeheartedly with every word.

In closing, I really hope that Steve Baker and the other Conservative rebels vote against the Government on the hospitality curfew next week.

They won’t win, but they will send a strong message to Boris and Matt Hancock.

Once again, coronavirus measures featured strongly in this week’s debates in the House of Commons.

Yesterday’s post explained that a compromise was reached over the proposed Brady Amendment and covered the subsequent debate on the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

In the end, only a handful of MPs voted against the extension. Congratulations to them and to the Liberal Democrats, all of whom voted No:

The Labour MPs were Dawn Butler, Kevan Jones, Rebecca Long-Bailey, John Spellar, Graham Stringer and Derek Twigg. I do have a particular admiration for Graham Stringer who adds lucidity in every discussion in which he participates. I’ve seen him in Select Committee hearings and he’s brilliant.

Below is a review of coronavirus debates from the other days.

Monday, September 28

Steve Baker (Con) was in rebel mode on his way to the Commons that morning:

In the afternoon, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock appeared at the despatch box for a debate on COVID-19 measures.

He received several interventions (interruptions).

Sir Edward Leigh (Con) was the first. He also mentioned Sir Graham Brady of the eponymous amendment (emphases mine below):

If the first duty of Government is to keep people safe, will the Secretary of State remember that the first duty of Parliament is to hold Government to account? I know that he wants to take public opinion with him, but will he therefore reassure us that he is also determined to take Parliament with him? In that respect, may I urge him to meet with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) and come to a compromise to ensure that, if there are further national lockdowns, Parliament will be fully involved in the process?

He agreed, but note the ‘where possible’ in his reply:

We are looking at further ways to ensure that the House can be properly involved in the process—in advance, where possible. I hope to provide the House with further details soon. I will take up the invitation to a further meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), whom I have already met to discuss this matter, to see what further progress can be made. I hope that that, for the time being, satisfies my right hon. Friend.

Mark Harper and Steve Baker, both Conservatives, hit the nail on the head.

Harper said:

To develop the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), I accept the points about scrutiny that the Secretary of State makes, but it is about not just scrutiny but the laws we are making. The laws that came in at midnight, for example, were 12 pages of laws, with lots of detail, criminal offences and duties not mentioned when they were set out in a statement last week. That includes duties on employers, directors and officers, with serious criminal penalties. We need to scrutinise the detail of the legislation before it comes into force and give our assent, and not, I am afraid, just allow the Secretary of State to put it into force by decree.

Hancock batted that away, as if it were nothing:

Of course, sometimes in this pandemic we have to move fast. Sometimes we have had to move fast, and we may need to do so again. The challenge we have in this House is how to ensure proper scrutiny while also being able, when necessary, to move fast in response to the virus. That is the challenge that collectively we all face.

Steve Baker dismissed that answer with facts but had to couch it, knowing how thin-skinned Hancock is:

I reassure my right hon. Friend that I am going to praise him later, but the Constitution Unit at University College London tweeted earlier about the regulations mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) that

this policy was briefed to the media 8 days ago. Was it really not possible to schedule proper, detailed parliamentary debate during that time, given the far-reaching consequences?”

It added:

“Given the current mood, it seems very likely MPs will ask this.”

Well, I am asking. Surely it was possible, in eight days, to have the debate that my right hon. Friend has called for.

Hancock replied that both he and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had made statements about the new laws the week before.

Labour’s John Spellar, who voted against the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020, pressed Hancock on the issue:

It is nice to be informed, nice to be consulted and nice to be able to scrutinise, but in the end it is about who decides. Can the Secretary of State explain why he is so against Parliament’s making the decision, even if he argues for urgency and immediacy —within two days, for example—to either confirm or revoke those regulations? Why is he against Parliament’s being the one that finally decides on this? It is quite clear that this is not even being decided in Cabinet, but just by one or two Cabinet members. Let Parliament decide.

Hancock said he hoped to find a way forward.

Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, replied on behalf of Labour.

This was an excellent debate, one worth reading in full. A few more highlights follow.

John Spellar pointed out that a vaccine would give no guarantees:

There has been much mention of the success of a vaccine, but, first, it is unclear when that is likely to be and, secondly, surely even if we have a vaccine, it will not be 100% effective.

Sir Desmond Swayne (Con) gave the best speech of the debate — a must-watch at just under two minutes:

He took exception to Chief Medical Officer Dr Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance’s televised presentation the week before with a graph that strained credulity. They took no questions from the press. No government minister was present, either, even though they sat in front of a No. 10 backdrop.

Swayne rightly railed about it and them:

Less than a year ago, I celebrated what I thought was the election of a sceptical and liberal Conservative Administration. Now, I am left wondering if the Prime Minister has not been abducted by Dr Strangelove and reprogrammed by the SAGE over to the dark side.

The purpose of politicians is to impose a sense of proportion on science and not to be in thrall to it. I will make myself very unpopular, but I believe that the appearance of the chiefs last week should have been a sacking offence. When they presented that graph, it was with the caveat that it was not a prediction, but nevertheless it was clear that they presented it as a plausible scenario, with its 50,000 cases per day by mid-October based on the doubling of infections by the week. Not on one day since March have there been infections on a day that were double that of the same day of the week preceding—not once. Where did this doubling come from? What was their purpose in presenting such a graph? It was the purpose of the fat boy in “The Pickwick Papers”:

“I wants to make your flesh creep.”

It was “project fear”. It was an attempt to terrify the British people, as if they had not been terrified enough.

I have been banging on about this since March, and with every criticism I have made, I have been told that the Government were relying on the best possible science. So I was delighted by the letter one week ago today with the nuanced criticism of Professors Heneghan, Gupta and Sikora. I believe that the Government now have to answer that criticism. I am glad that the consensus in the scientific community is broken and the critics are speaking out.

I do not underestimate for one moment the horrible nature of this disease and its post-viral syndrome, but in terms of the United Kingdom’s killers, it is 24th in the league, accounting for only 1.4% of deaths. As a consequence, I believe the Government’s policy has been disproportionate. By decree, they have interfered in our private and family lives, telling us whom we may meet, when we may meet them and what we must wear when we meet them. We have the cruelty of elderly people in care homes being disoriented, unable to see the faces of their loved ones or to receive a hug. We have the tsunami of deaths that we may experience shortly as a consequence of undiagnosed cancers and heart disease, and the discontinuation of clinical trials.

He praised Sweden’s lack of lockdown and compared the Government’s warning about Christmas celebrations to Cromwell, who, as Lord Protector, also banned the holiday:

All sorts of criticisms are levelled against the Swedish Government that, on examination of the data and comparing like for like, are without foundation. I certainly hold up the Swedish model as an alternative.

We have seen the eye-watering costs that we must now all face for a generation, having closed down our economy for all those months as a consequence of the Government’s policy. We face the crushing of enterprises, the destruction of livelihoods, and unemployment among young people, all as a consequence of an overreaction. I understand that there is now some question as to whether students will be allowed to return from university at Christmas. I say most gently to the Minister that the last Administration that sought to restrain celebrations at Christmas was during the Commonwealth, when the Lord Protector was left musing in public whether, if he were to arm one in 10, that would be enough. How many marshals will be required?

I conclude by saying that the policy of the Government has been disproportionate in response to this threat. There may be a virus one day that threatens our very way of life, but this is not it, even if we are behaving as if it were.

In other news, people in England were deeply unhappy to discover that, while they are under 10 p.m. closing time for pubs and restaurants, Parliament’s bar and restaurant were allowed to stay open past that hour.

Guido Fawkes reported that a U-turn took place. The exemption was initially made because both are considered as a ‘workplace canteen’, as sittings in both the Commons and the Lords occasionally run into the night. Now, at least, alcohol will not be served after the witching hour:

Tuesday, September 29

The 10 p.m. closing time for bars and restaurants in England has rankled both proprietors and the public to the extent that the Mojo Bar in Manchester has banned all MPs until the curfew is cancelled:

Guido Fawkes had more details (emphasis in purple mine):

After five days of the disastrous mandatory 10 pm closing time policy for bars, pubs, and restaurants, Mojo Bar in Manchester is taking matters into its own hands. Clearly fuming at the counterproductive curfew order imposed this week, the bar took to social media to share pictures of all MPs – declaring none of them will be served until the curfew is cancelled. Clearly the management know which strings to pull to get the attention of MPs…

Managing Director Martin Greenhow tells Guido that the eye catching policy came about “from frustration and fear”. Before the curfew the bar had bounced back pretty strongly from lockdown, back up to 85% of normal turnover. After the curfew was imposed it’s down to just 20%.

Good grief! Stop the madness.

The coronavirus restrictions in England became so complicated that ministers, including Boris, could not keep them straight any more.

Gillian Keegan, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, had a rough start in the morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today:

Guido had more (emphases in the original):

… she was unable to clarify the newly-imposed rules in the northeast on meeting other families, squirming “no, I’m sorry I can’t clarify that… no I don’t know the answer to that question”, claiming she couldn’t answer the ever-increasingly complex regulation question because she’s “not from the northeast”. Mishal Husain correctly pointed out Keegan, as a minister, couldn’t understand the new rules, what hope does the general population have of being able to stick to them…

Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, also appeared on BBC radio that morning. He took issue with their ‘gotcha’ tactics:

Boris, too, got tripped up around lunchtime. He was asked to clarify Gillian Keegan’s answer on Today:

Guido reported:

Responding to a Channel 5 question, Boris said:

“Outside the areas such as the North East where extra measures have been brought in, it’s six inside and six outside, in those areas such as the North East where extra tight measures have been brought in you should follow the guidance of local authorities, but it’s six in a home or in hospitality but as I understand it, not six outside. That’s the situation there.”

Which is precisely the opposite of what the new restrictions say, as the Government announced last night:

“Measures will be brought into law restricting inter-household mixing in indoor settings, including pubs and restaurants”

So in indoor settings no household mixing. Outdoor can see household mixing. Something the PM got 180 degrees the wrong way round…

He quickly issued an erratum early in the afternoon:

Wednesday, September 30

In the debate on extending the Coronavirus Act 2020, another highlight was Conservative MP Charles Walker’s speech. He was on fire:

He said:

I first thank the Secretary of State for everything he has done to get us to this stage tonight, but 90 minutes to debate the renewal of an Act that has fundamentally changed the nature of the relationship between the state and citizens is not good enough. If this is the portent of the promises to come, it is not good enough. I need, at some stage, more than three minutes to discuss the fundamental hardships that are going on in my constituency—the jobs that are being lost, the opportunities that are being lost, the young people struggling to find work, to get back to university and to come back from university. Ninety minutes is an utter, utter disgrace. It is actually disrespectful to this House and it is disrespectful to colleagues.

I am sorry, Secretary of State, if I sound—actually, I am not sorry that I am angry, because a lot of people in this place are angry. We want to see this virus beaten, of course we do, but it would be nice—just nice—if this House were shown some respect.

Charles Walker is the vice-Chairman of the 1922 Committee, which Sir Graham Brady chairs. It represents backbench Conservative MPs.

Walker’s righteous anger has been building since September 10:

I note that Steve Baker did not vote against the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020, despite a bold interview days before on Sky News.

Despite that, he still has his eye on the ball. He retweeted this from Italy:

And he’s doing more interviews:

We really do need to reopen the economy in full — now.

Next week, I’ll have a wrap-up of the final debates of the Brexit-oriented Internal Market Bill.

Last week, I wrote about the Brady Amendment, brought by Sir Graham Brady MP to stop the Government ruling ‘by decree’ when it comes to local coronavirus lockdowns and other measures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have been appearing at the despatch box to announce these lockdowns and measures without allowing MPs to debate them in the Commons first.

As I wrote then, because Sir Graham and Steve Baker MP were confident they had the numbers for it to pass on Wednesday, September 30:

It’s all good news — but only if Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle allows Brady to bring the proposed amendment forward for debate.

In the end, conversations took place behind closed doors and the Speaker did not table it for debate.

Here is what happened in the meantime.

On Thursday, September 24, Guido Fawkes posted a copy of it (emphases in the original):

Prior parliamentary scrutiny of major national coronavirus regulations

Line [1], leave out from “expire” to end and add “provided Ministers ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that in the exercise of their powers to tackle the pandemic under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and other primary legislation, including for example Part 2A of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, Parliament has an opportunity to debate and to vote upon any secondary legislation with effect in the whole of England or the whole United Kingdom before it comes into effect.”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment appends to the statutory motion, Section 98.2 of the Coronavirus Act, a provision that Parliament shall have the opportunity to debate and vote upon secondary legislation of major national importance before it comes into effect. The amendment makes clear Parliament’s intent to renew the powers of the Coronavirus Act with this provision.

Dr Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society, wrote an analysis of it: ‘Building on the Brady Amendment: how can Parliament scrutinise Coronavirus regulations more effectively?’

At that point, 46 MPs had signed the amendment. Forty of the MPs are Conservatives.

On Sunday, September 27, the BBC’s Andrew Marr interviewed the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, who said he was ‘hugely sympathetic’ to the amendment, would ‘almost certainly’ vote for it and said it doesn’t go far enough:

On Monday evening, Steve Baker tweeted to say that the Conservative Whip invited him and other signatories to discuss the matter with Matt Hancock and Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg:

William Wragg (Con) is also one of the good guys. His tweet below met with mixed reactions from the British public:

Bloomberg’s economics editor tweeted …

… as did The Spectator‘s deputy political editor:

Katy Balls’s article, ‘Is No. 10 about to move on the Brady amendment?’

She wrote, in part (emphases mine):

The critical conversations … have been going on out of sight. As Tory support grows for the Brady amendment — which seeks to give parliament a say on changes to coronavirus restrictions currently covered by emergency laws — government chief whip Mark Spencer has spent his afternoon meeting with would-be Tory rebels.

While it’s still unclear whether the amendment will even be selected on Wednesday for a vote (the expectation in government is that it will be ruled out of scope by the Speaker), the size of the potential rebellion has been enough to focus minds …

Former ERG chair Steve Baker described the meeting online as ‘cordial and constructive’. The expectation among those rebels who attended today’s meeting is that the government is in ‘listening mode’ and will come back with a proposal in due course. However, while there is room for negotiation here, a red line among many of the leading rebels is that it isn’t enough to be given more time for speeches, MPs need a say — they need votes. Up until now, that’s something No. 10 has been reluctant to give.

On Tuesday, Guido tweeted:

By that time, 80 Conservative rebels had signed the amendment.

Guido’s accompanying post was, as usual, accurate in predicting what would happen on Wednesday. ITV’s Robert Peston was spot on (emphases in the original):

By all accounts a deal is close to being struck before Wednesday’s vote. Robert Peston reckons Hancock will acquiesce at the Despatch Box tomorrow, and allow MPs to vote on national coronavirus measures – albeit reserving the power to delay the vote until a few days after the imposition of a new restriction in the case of “an emergency“. Rebels are holding what specific procedure they would agree to close to their chest, although Steve Baker described yesterday’s meeting as “cordial and constructive”…

While the Brady Amendment could still be ruled out of scope by the Speaker on Wednesday instead of being put to a vote, Number 10 has been at pains to communicate that it understands the swelling sense of feeling on its back benches. Guido is told by one senior rebel that they are “confident a solution will be found”…

On Wednesday, September 30, the Speaker sympathetically announced why he rejected the Brady Amendment. However, he also rebuked the Government:

I will now look the the Government to rebuild trust with this house and not treat it with the contempt it has shown.

Here’s the video:

He allowed a 90-minute debate that afternoon, followed by a vote, on renewing the Coronavirus Act 2020.

The first part of his statement pertains to the Government and the latter half to the Brady Amendment (emphases mine):

I wish to make a statement about this House’s scrutiny of delegated powers during the pandemic, and on the selection of amendments to the motion relating to the Coronavirus Act 2020 later today.

The way in which the Government have exercised their powers to make secondary legislation during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory. All too often, important statutory instruments have been published a matter of hours before they come into force, and some explanations why important measures have come into effect before they can be laid before this House have been unconvincing; this shows a total disregard for the House.

The Government must make greater efforts to prepare measures more quickly, so that this House can debate and decide upon the most significant measures at the earliest possible point. The use of made affirmative statutory instruments under the urgency procedure gives rise to particular concern. I will give very sympathetic consideration to applications for urgent questions or emergency debates in such cases, requiring Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box to justify the use of such powers.

That last sentence means that Matt Hancock will have to appear at the despatch box to answer questions and allow debate.

Moving along to the debate held that afternoon and to the Brady Amendment:

I hope that all hon. Members will have a chance to express their views through substantive amendable motions on scrutiny of delegated powers, or on the operation of the Coronavirus Act 2020, or both.

I turn now to the motion to be considered later today, which invites the House to make a narrow, binary choice as to whether the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 should or should not expire. Unfortunately, as it is only a 90-minute debate as a proceeding under an Act under Standing Order No. 16, I am disappointed that I cannot give additional time to discuss the issues. I know some Members will be disappointed.

When I became Speaker, I made it clear that I would take decisions on matters relating to procedure guided by professional advice. I have concluded, on the basis of advice that I have received, that any amendment to the motion before the House risks giving rise to uncertainty about the decision the House has taken. This then risks decisions that are rightly the responsibility of Parliament ultimately being determined by the courts. Lack of clarity in such important matters risks undermining the rule of law. I have therefore decided not to select any of the amendments to the motion.

As I hope my earlier comments show, I have not taken this decision lightly. I am looking to the Government to remedy a situation I regard as completely unsatisfactory. I now look to the Government to rebuild the trust with this House and not treat it with the contempt that they have shown.

Matt Hancock introduced the debate of the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and said:

This has been an unprecedented time. This House has had to do many unprecedented things, many of which have been uncomfortable. I have listened to the concerns raised about scrutiny. As you pointed out earlier, Mr Speaker, there have been times when this pandemic has challenged us all and we have not been able to do this as well as we would have liked. I therefore propose that we change the approach to bringing in urgent measures. I am very grateful to all colleagues we have worked with to come forward with a proposal that will allow us to make decisions and implement them fast, yet also ensure that they are scrutinised properly.

Today, I can confirm to the House that for significant national measures with effect in the whole of England or UK-wide, we will consult Parliament; wherever possible, we will hold votes before such regulations come into force. But of course, responding to the virus means that the Government must act with speed when required, and we cannot hold up urgent regulations that are needed to control the virus and save lives. I am sure that no Member of this House would want to limit the Government’s ability to take emergency action in the national interest, as we did in March.

We will continue to involve the House in scrutinising our decisions in the way my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out last week, with regular statements and debates, and the ability for Members to question the Government’s scientific advisers more regularly, gain access to data about their constituencies and join daily calls with my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General. I hope these new arrangements will be welcomed on both sides of the House, and I will continue to listen to colleagues’ concerns, as I have tried my best to do throughout.

That said very little. I remain unconvinced.

Sir Graham Brady was the first to respond:

I thank my right hon. Friend for being prepared to listen and for the constructive conversations that we have had over the last couple of weeks. As he said, Members on both sides of the House understand the importance of Ministers having the freedom to act quickly when it is necessary, but we are grateful that he and other members of the Government have understood the importance of proper scrutiny in this place and the benefits that that can bring for better government.

Steve Baker also expressed his thanks.

A few minutes later, Steve Brine (Con) pointed out that some of these dangers to civil liberties come from older legislation:

I thank the Secretary of State very much for the sensible measures the Government have taken today on the involvement and ongoing consent of this House. There is widespread public concern out there about consent and the measures we are imposing on their lives. Just to be clear for the public, and some sectors of the media, watching this debate: many of the restrictions that we are reluctantly having to place on our constituents’ lives do not come through the Coronavirus Act 2020; they come through many other pieces of legislation, but primarily the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

Mark Harper (Con) asked for more detail on how this new rapprochement would work:

May I just press the Secretary of State? He said in his remarks that the Government will bring forward votes in advance of the measures coming into force on national measures covering the whole of England or the whole of the UK. Obviously, some of the measures that have come into force so far have been quite significant, covering large parts of the country and millions of people. I accept there is a judgment to be made here; can he say a little more about where the line will be drawn about what is brought to this House in advance?

Hancock gave a slippery answer:

In a way my right hon. Friend, who has huge experience in these matters, answers his own question, because of course there is a judgment to be made. We have made a very clear commitment to the process that we will follow, and I hope that over the weeks to come we will demonstrate through our actions and through what we bring forward that we are true to that commitment, which essentially will become a new convention.

‘A new convention’! It is standard parliamentary procedure.

Tim Farron (Lib Dem) asked about the seeming inconsistency of social distancing and the harm to certain businesses:

Will he agree, though, that the inconsistent and sometimes nonsensical application of some of the rules is doing damage to some of the businesses that he talks about? In particular, I am thinking of the wedding industry and the many families who have been affected by that. The rule of six surely can apply so that a place that can take many multiples of six could host weddings and give people their special day, and so that it does not kill a vital industry not just in the lakes and the dales, but across the country.

Hancock gave a stock answer about following public health evidence.

Andrew Mitchell (Con) also asked about weddings as well as the events industry:

I have a lot of sympathy with what the Secretary of State is saying, but may I also support what was said by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), not only about the wedding industry but about the exhibitions and events industry? Will my right hon. Friend at least bear in mind that good sense from careful people who seek to be covid-sensible and compliant would enable him to exercise some flexibility in the very inflexible rules that currently govern those two important industries, which are flat on their backs?

Edward Timpson (Con) was also concerned about wedding venues:

On the 15-person limit at wedding venues, it would help a lot of those in the industry, which is struggling desperately, if they could see the public health evidence and anything else taken into consideration in coming to that judgment. The difference between them and the rest of the hospitality industry does stand out, and they are going to be in a further desperate state for the next six months.

Hancock referred him to the Business Secretary!

Nick Thomas-Symonds responded on behalf of Labour to Hancock’s statement.

Sir Graham Brady rose to speak:

Mr Speaker, may I begin by thanking you? Although you gave your reasons earlier for not selecting the amendments in my name and that of 80 other colleagues across the House, you also made your expectations of Government crystal clear. No one could doubt your commitment to upholding the Standing Orders of this House, Mr Speaker, and nor have you left any doubt about your resolve in defending parliamentary democracy and the right of this House to scrutinise and hold Ministers to account.

I am also pleased to be able to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Throughout my discussions with him, he has accepted the need to find a better approach to scrutiny and parliamentary approval of coronavirus measures. The new procedure that he has committed the Government to follow shows a genuine understanding of what has been wrong in the past and a real promise of transparency and engagement in the future. I believe the outcome we have reached is in the interests of Parliament, in the interests of better government and, most importantly, it gives the British people reassurance that measures that restrict their liberty, interfere with their family life, and very often threaten their livelihoods will not be implemented without important questions being asked and answers given in advance.

This video is a must watch as Hancock looks absolutely petulant:

Chris Bryant (Lab) asked Brady:

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what this new procedure is?

Brady replied:

The hon. Gentleman is an expert on procedure, and he will soon get to grips with it. It is the made affirmative procedure, which entails the setting of a commencement date in the future for measures, which will allow for a debate and vote to take place in advance of commencement. The House will therefore have that crucial ability to refuse consent.

It isn’t often that I agree with Chris Bryant, but I did here. He came back with this:

But the Government decide.

Brady said:

These things will be brought forward. We have had the assurance, and we will hold the Government to it. The hon. Gentleman will see it very soon.

I will close by thanking those Members across the House who, by supporting my amendment publicly or privately, have helped to achieve what I believe will be an important step forward for all of us.

The Speaker set a three-minute time limit on the rest of the speeches, in order to fit everyone in:

Scotland’s Ian Blackford (SNP) banged on for 20 minutes, beginning as follows:

I regret the fact that this is only a 90-minute debate. The Government should have ensured that a more appropriate amount of time was given. In that context, I will not do what I normally do; I apologise to Members, but because of time, I will not be taking interventions. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!“] That is utterly pathetic.

Jim Shannon (DUP) asked about a future vaccine, hoping that its uptake would be voluntary:

Very quickly, one of the issues that has come to my attentionthe number of emails has been enormousis to do with the enforcement of vaccines on those people who do not wish to have them. I personally would take such a vaccine, but others will not. Does my hon. Friend agree that when it comes to vaccines, it should be by choice only?

I couldn’t agree more.

Sammy Wilson (DUP) had the best speech, because he wanted to find out more specifics of this ‘new convention’ of Hancock’s. He began by replying to Jim Shannon:

Well, of course, that is an issue that the Government will have to address in the future, if ever a vaccine is found.

The important thing is the frustration that many in the public are experiencing at present. It might not have been totally wiped out, but I believe there certainly would have been far more scrutiny if this House had not just had the ability to listen to statements or ask questions, but had actually had the real sanction that if the Minister did not make a consistent and competent case for the measures that he was introducing, they could be voted down. That is why the demand that there be effective scrutiny by this House is important.

We have listened to what the Minister has said, but I am not convinced that we will see that effective scrutiny; because if I heard him right, first, it would only be for matters that are significant. Now, who will make the judgment on whether the issue is significant? I can tell the Minister that, if I own a business and it is decided that it could be closed down, that is significant; yet we do not know who will make that final decision.

The scrutiny will only be for issues that are national. Sixteen million people are currently affected by a range of local decisions and local restrictions. That, to me, is as bad—half the nation, half the country, is affected—yet according to the Minister’s definition today that would not be covered because it would not be a national decision. And, of course, scrutiny will happen where possible. I suppose if the Government wished to escape scrutiny they could always say, “But this has suddenly emerged,” even though the data could have been collected days and days before. So who will decide whether it is possible to have the time to do this?

Hancock gave him a deathly stare.

After an intervention, he continued and concluded:

It certainly should not be left to those who have wanted to rush through decisions and those who in the past have wanted to escape scrutiny because the decisions have been illogical and inconsistent, and people cannot understand them, and even some of those who have made the decisions do not understand them and sometimes have a different interpretation.

This is not just about MPs having a sense of their own importance. This is important if the measures are to have acceptance among the public, because with that kind of scrutiny, with a final vote, at least if we were not convinced that the measures were necessary, if we were not convinced that they would not have disproportionately damaging effects, if we were not convinced that they would actually work, if we were not convinced that the public would understand them, we would have the right to say, “Minister, you cannot proceed with them,” and have the opportunity to vote them down. I do not think we have had a convincing assurance from the Secretary of State today about when we would have that kind of role, and if we do not have that kind of role, I do not think that we should support the continuation of these kinds of measures.

In the end — because of Ian Blackford:

Shameful.

After a few more MPs spoke, it was time for Hancock to wrap things up prior to the vote on the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

He gave a very watery response to Sammy Wilson:

I listened with care to the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). I urge him to support the Coronavirus Act this evening, not least because he knows, from the commitments I have given, that there will be further chances for both scrutiny and votes on measures in future thanks to the discussions we have had today.

Unfortunately, the Act was renewed: 330-24.

More on this to follow tomorrow.

This week in Parliament was another exciting and contentious one.

I wrote about Conservative MPs’ responses to the new coronavirus measures a few days ago. Two MPs spoke up at the end of Wednesday’s debate (see the end of this post).

I will cover Rishi Sunak’s new funding plans for individuals and businesses early next week.

To follow up on angry Conservative MPs, Guido Fawkes reports that Sir Graham Brady (right) and Steve Baker (left) are confident that they can get Brady’s amendment to the Coronavirus Act 2020 passed:

On Thursday, September 24, Guido wrote (emphases in the original):

MPs have been growing increasingly concerned with the Government imposing new restrictions with no debate in, or assent from Parliament. Increasing scepticism meant the Government leant away from as harsh measures as many were expecting earlier this week. This being said, the curfew measures for example are baffling many, and they want the opportunity to have their say over new measures in the future. All this led to a proposed amendment from Graham Brady which, if selected by the Speaker, would require Parliamentary approval for new measures.

Around 40 Tory MPs backing his amendment, which would be enough to overturn the Government’s 80 seat majority if opposition MPs back it too. Last night Steve Baker told Robert Peston that he is “absolutely, 100% certain it will pass if Labour and the SNP vote for it. But I’m afraid Labour and the SNP have been missing in action on civil liberties…”

One potential snag is that, as The Times’ Steven Swinford revealed yesterday, House Clerks have advised the motion on extending coronavirus powers is “binary” – and can only be approved or rejected, not amended. Rebel MPs do not see this as a problem as they believe if the amendment is selected and passed, it does not need to carry legal authority. The theory is the moral authority of the will of the Commons will be enough to brow beat the Government into finally putting new measures before Parliament for debate before being enacted…

It’s all good news — but only if Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle allows Brady to bring the proposed amendment forward for debate.

Yesterday, I wrote about last week’s progress on the Internal Market Bill.

On Monday, September 21, the bill entered its third day at Committee stage. Debate on amendments and clauses continued. This time they centred on Part 5 of the bill which relates to the Northern Ireland protocol.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Robert Walker, Minister of State for the Northern Ireland Office, said:

Through this Bill, we are acting to uphold those priorities and deliver the commitments we made in our election manifesto that we would provide unfettered access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and

“maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market.”

The protocol also explicitly depends on the consent of the people of Northern Ireland for its continued existence. As we implement the protocol, that must be kept in mind. Those commitments are, of course, entirely in accord with the protocol itself, which makes it clear that, among other things, Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom’s customs territory, that nothing in the protocol prevents unfettered access from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK market, and that in its application the protocol should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Walker received a lot of interventions from both sides of the House after that introduction.

Theresa May (Maidenhead, Con) tried to stick the knife in:

My hon. Friend has been setting out throughout his speech that the Government want clauses 41 to 45 because of the bad consequences that could come from an interpretation of the withdrawal agreement. If the potential consequences of the withdrawal agreement were so bad, why did the Government sign it?

Walker responded:

As my right hon. Friend knows well, the withdrawal agreement was negotiated by the UK and the EU and agreed with a view that certain elements would be resolved by the Joint Committee. I think there was a reasonable expectation on both sides that the Joint Committee would have made more progress on those issues, but unfortunately we have heard some harmful interpretations over the past few months. The point of these Government clauses is to ensure that we can rule those out and put in place the appropriate legal default.

After allowing further interventions, Walker resumed a detailed set of provisions and reasons why the Government was rejecting others:

Clause 45 completes the all-purpose safety net for regulations made under clauses 42 and 43, so that there can be no confusion about the position in domestic law for our courts, businesses and public bodies

Finally, clause 50 disapplies certain provisions of the UK Internal Market Bill in the scenario that Northern Ireland’s representatives resolve, under the protocol’s consent mechanism, that articles 5 to 10 of the protocol should cease to apply. This is a practical step to account for and respect the principle of consent enshrined in the protocol. The protocol itself is not codified as a permanent solution for Northern Ireland, and neither should it be in the domestic legislation that implements it. Taken together, these clauses deliver on our commitments to Northern Ireland

I turn to two amendments regarding the commencement of these provisions that have been subject to much debate and attention, including a number of powerful and persuasive speeches on Second Reading. Amendment 4, which is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Bob Neill), the Chair of the Justice Committee, and is signed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, seeks to provide in essence that break-glass mechanism on the key safety net provisions in relation to the protocol by stating that clauses 42, 43 and 45 of the Bill may not come into force until a motion in this House is passed. Since that amendment was tabled, I am pleased that there have been constructive talks between my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and Ministers, and the Government have tabled amendment 66, which provides for substantially the same break-glass mechanism, with the additional requirement for a take-note debate in the other place (House of Lords). I hope that that amendment will demonstrate to hon. Members, including the Chair of the Justice Committee, that we are committed to ensuring that any decision to use the powers is explicitly approved by Parliament.

Neill was satisfied:

I thank my hon. Friend for the constructive tone that he and members of the Government have adopted in these matters. It enables some of us who otherwise would not have been able to support these clauses to proceed, on the understanding that there is a specific parliamentary lock that bad faith on the counter-party’s side must be proven to the House before these powers are brought into operation, which of course all of us hope will never be the case. I welcome that, and it enables us to support the Government’s amendment.

Walker replied:

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. A fundamental principle of our constitution, and one that lies at the very heart of our exit from the EU, is that this Parliament is sovereign. As set out in clause 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, that means that it can choose to legislate to deliver an interpretation of the protocol consistent with our understanding, while recognising that to do so is a significant step. The parliamentary procedure set out in amendment 66 recognises that, and provides a clearer, more explicit democratic mandate for the use of the powers. I therefore commend amendment 66 to the Committee, and urge my hon. Friend and all Members to support it and not to press amendment 4.

He continued:

Amendments 64 and 65, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, make it clear that any regulations made under clauses 42 or 43 would, of course, be subject to judicial review, contrary to some of the claims that have been made over recent weeks, while ensuring that any claims must be brought within a three-month period. That ensures that any challenge to the regulations will be subject to a timely resolution before the courts, which is essential to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses and investors in Northern Ireland have the certainty that they need, which is at the heart of the Bill. I commend those amendments to the House. As they clarify the position on judicial review, amendment 44 is not necessary.

Amendments 61 to 63, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, are targeted technical amendments to ensure that the Government are able to maintain the integrity of the UK’s VAT and excise systems and can deal with any threats to biosecurity in Great Britain in response to changes required in Northern Ireland under the protocol.

In particular, the amendments ensure that the Government can act to address cases of double taxation and non-taxation created by the Northern Ireland protocol, as well as to close down opportunities for tax evasion.

The amendments will also ensure that both the UK Government and the devolved Administrations can continue, as they do now, to respond to specific biosecurity threats arising from the movement of animals and high-risk plants. The principle of facilitating actions to protect biosecurity on an ongoing basis between England, Scotland and Wales is already reflected in schedule 1 to the Bill. The amendments simply clarify that similar processes can also apply with regard to Northern Ireland where there is a genuine risk of a biosecurity threat that poses a serious threat to the health of humans, animals or plants.

I commend those amendments to the Committee …

Amendment 41 seeks, among other things, to add a paramount duty to clause 40, requiring authorities to act without prejudice to international and domestic law. Amendment 53 similarly seeks to prevent authorities from exercising functions in a way that is incompatible or inconsistent with relevant domestic or international law. Amendment 52 appears to require the Government to follow the process agreed in the withdrawal agreement as the only mechanism for dispute resolution. Amendments 54 and 55 seek to prevent regulations made under clause 42 from having effect, notwithstanding international and domestic law. Amendment 46 would remove the Northern Ireland protocol from the list of international law that may be set aside, undermining the intent of clauses 42 and 43.

Amendments 57 and 59 would prevent regulations under clause 43 from interpreting, disapplying or modifying the effect of article 10 of the protocol. Clause 43 is a necessary provision that will ensure that the Secretary of State’s interpretation will achieve the correct effect in domestic law.

I repeat that the Government are committed to implementing the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol; however, as a responsible Government we cannot accept any amendments that would undermine the provisions in the Bill and render them no kind of safety net at all, thereby risking the compromising of the UK internal market’s economic integrity by unintended consequences or harmful defaults contained in some interpretations of the protocol, or creating confusion or uncertainty about the position in domestic law. I therefore urge right hon. and hon. Members to withdraw the amendments.

I recognise the spirit behind amendments 67 and 68. The Government have been clear that, as we set out in the Command Paper, we will ensure that there are no tariffs on any goods that remain within the UK customs territory. I hope Members will welcome the further relevant measures that will be set out in the Finance Bill.

There will not be any new customs infrastructure in Northern Ireland. We have always accepted that there will be some limited, streamlined processes for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, building on what already happens at existing points of entry and limited to electronic declarations for businesses in Great Britain to confirm that their products are for the Northern Ireland market.

We have outlined our commitment to providing extensive support for businesses, including through the new trader support service, which will provide an end-to-end service and guide traders through all import processes at no additional cost. This is a unique intervention, backed by £200 million in Government funding to ensure that businesses of all sizes can draw on the support that it provides. Given those assurances, I hope that Members will feel able to withdraw the amendments.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East, DUP) was unhappy at being asked to withdraw the amendments without seeing any specifics as to why.

Walker tried to reassure him:

I absolutely hear the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I have made the point about what we have said in the Command Paper and what the Prime Minister has referred to in respect of the Finance Bill.

Amendment 69 seeks to ensure that there would be no new costs for a Northern Ireland business to access or sell in the market. The UK Government have already committed in legislation to delivering unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses, including through the Bill, which will apply the principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination to qualifying Northern Ireland goods, thereby ensuring that they can continue to be sold in the Great Britain market in the same way as now. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.

Amendment 70 seeks to ensure that goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain through Ireland will benefit from unfettered access. I reassure Members that we recognise the importance of trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain that moves via Dublin to Holyhead. We are currently engaging with businesses and the Northern Ireland Executive on the long-term means for delivering qualifying status for unfettered access. It would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of that consultation, so the Government cannot accept the amendment.

On amendment 71, the Government have been working and will continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on the implementation of the protocol, including on unfettered access, but we do not agree that a restriction on the Government’s powers to make regulations effectively would be justified.

We resist amendment 72 on the basis that it is legally unnecessary. The current wording already encompasses distortions of competition between persons supplying goods or services in the course of a business within the UK internal market. Such wording is already sufficient to cover the regulation of subsidies that would have the effect of making Northern Ireland businesses less competitive in the Great Britain market.

Although the Government agree with the spirit of amendment 78, the whole Government are acutely aware of the need to maintain Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK internal market, which is already referenced many times elsewhere in the Bill, so we do not believe the amendment is necessary.

On amendment 79, I understand Members’ concerns and support mutual recognition and the non-discrimination principle, but the exception to mutual recognition that we have introduced for chemicals is there to allow the relevant authorities to respond to local factors. Authorisations granted by the EU after the end of the transition period will not take local conditions into consideration. I emphasise that the authorisations relate to the use of substances of very high concern. It is important that the Government and devolved Administrations can take local factors into account when they decide how to protect human health or the environment from the significant risks posed by such chemicals. I therefore urge Members to withdraw or vote against the amendment.

On new clause 7 and amendment 45, I want to reassure Members that the Bill includes provisions that are there precisely to protect the essential basis of the peace process, by ensuring that, regardless of whether further agreement is reached in the negotiations, there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and that Northern Ireland businesses will continue to benefit from unfettered access to the rest of the UK market when the transition period ends.

I can also reassure hon. Members that our commitment to protecting the Belfast/ Good Friday agreement of course includes protecting north-south co-operation in areas specified under that agreement, and the protocol is clear on that. That commitment is already enshrined in UK legislation: in section 10 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and through our continued support for this strand of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement throughout the process of exiting the European Union …

Walker then covered several other amendments which the Government deemed unnecessary.

Debate centred around the possible violation of international law.

Sir William Cash intervened during Paul Blomfield’s (Sheffield Central, Lab) speech with this:

I am actually going to look briefly at a simple point, which is that, apart from our own judges, the German federal constitutional court in December 2015 clearly stated that international law leaves it to each state to give precedence to national law. International law gives effect in that way. How does the hon. Gentleman answer that?

In his defence Blomfield quoted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who said on September 8 that the Internal Market Bill would ‘break international law’ in a ‘specific and limited way’.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West, SNP) cited the Gina Miller court case against Brexit, wherein our Supreme Court ruled that international law, not domestic law, governs international treaties.

Blomfield continued, casting doubt on the bill.

Theresa May spoke next, again having a go at Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was not present for the debate. She and the Opposition were in agreement on breaking international law:

Today, we are focusing on the parts of the Bill that relate to the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the withdrawal agreement—the withdrawal agreement that was signed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister less than a year ago. I can say to the Minister that, in my view, clauses 41 to 45 have no place in this Bill. We are told that they are there because the EU either is acting in bad faith, or might act in bad faith. This is because the withdrawal agreement put a border down the Irish sea and the Government cannot accept that—but the Government did accept that when they signed the withdrawal agreement with the European Union, and I assume that, when they did so, the Government signed that in good faith. Yet here we have clauses 41 to 45 saying that the Government should have the ability to renege on parts of the withdrawal agreement to break international law.

There are three reasons why I believe that these clauses have no place in the Bill. The first, which has been referred to in earlier interventions, is that it is unnecessary. There is an arbitration process available. Under article 175, the ruling of the arbitration panel should be binding on the UK and the EU. The Government have acknowledged the existence of the arbitration procedure, but they are saying that they would enter into that in parallel with the operation of the elements of this Bill. The message, it seems to me, is very clear, which is, if we do not like the outcome of the arbitration panel, then we will break international law and we will not accept it. Yet, again, that is breaking the international treaty—an agreement that UK Government signed—because it is breaking article 175, which says that the view of the arbitration panel shall be “binding” on both parties. However, there is not just an arbitration process available. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) referred to, article 16 says:

If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”

Clauses 41 to 45 are not necessary …

She continued, then concluded:

I cannot emphasise enough how concerned I am that a Conservative Government are willing to go back on their word, to break an international agreement signed in good faith and to break international law.

Later, at least one MP on the Opposition benches acknowledged her warmly for that.

Bill Cash was able to intervene:

Is she aware that the EU itself and indeed many other states throughout the world, including many democratic countries, have persistently broken international law, and that this applies not only to other countries, but to the United Kingdom? There are many overrides of international treaties by the UK itself.

May persisted:

Let me get this right. My hon. Friend seems to be saying, “If somebody else does something wrong, it’s okay for us to do something wrong.” I am sorry, I do not agree with him on that point.

I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) has taken every effort to ameliorate the impact of these clauses, and the Government have accepted and put down their own amendment. But, frankly, my view is that to the outside world, it makes no difference whether a decision to break international law is taken by a Minister or by this Parliament; it is still a decision to break international law. This can only weaken the UK in the eyes of the world. One of the great strengths we have as a country is our commitment to the rule of law, and this will have been damaged. Our reputation as a country that stands by its word will have been tarnished, and the willingness of other countries to trust the United Kingdom and its values will have been reduced. So much for global Britain!

I consider that, in introducing clauses 41 to 45, the Government are acting recklessly and irresponsibly, with no thought to the long-term impact on the United Kingdom’s standing in the world. It will lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation and puts its future at risk. As a result, with regret I have to tell the Minister that I cannot support this Bill.

May had the support of the next speaker, the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire):

It is a privilege to follow such a thoughtful and considered speech

Bill Cash spoke next:

There are many essential reasons, in our national interest and on constitutional and legal grounds, and grounds of practical necessity, for the clear, unambiguous “notwithstanding” clauses in the Bill that have been discussed in the context of clauses 42 to 45.

I mentioned in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) that this was a question not just of whether the Euro pot was calling the British kettle black, but of whether, in the United Kingdom, we had ourselves overridden clear treaties. There are too many—they are far too numerous—to mention in this short debate. Of course, there is also an enormous number of examples of international law breaches by foreign states—not only, in Europe, by member states but by the EU itself, egregiously. Furthermore, there are examples of other countries, every one of them democratically elected, having done so. This question of values and reputation, and the issues that have arisen, has to be weighed against that context

There is no argument about it; it is there in black and white in the treaties and in the sections of various enactments that have overtaken and overridden international law.

The debate went on for some time — fascinating and fractious.

In the end, the Government won in the divisions.

On Tuesday, September 22, the bill was at Committee stage for the fourth day. The debate centred on rewording of certain clauses and amendments.

The day’s theme was ‘power grab’ and the lowering of animal welfare among other standards.

The SNP are terrified that the UK parliament will attempt to reduce the Scottish government’s powers under devolution.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) led the charge:

This Cummings-directed Tory UK Government are breaking international law, and they are breaking devolution. Behind the innocent-sounding mutual recognition mechanism, the Bill simply starts a race to the bottom on standards with the UK Government imposing it against our will in Scotland.

The Bill will see the Tories mount an assault on devolution with the biggest power grab since the Scottish Parliament was re-established. People in Scotland are seeing through the contempt that the Tory Government and Westminster have for their democratic choices. They are not daft. They know that this shabby, illegal, dogmatic Bill is not designed to fix anything, but it is designed to game the system for vested interests.

It is a fact that existing mechanisms and simple changes to Standing Orders could have worked with consensus instead, but this Government do not believe in consensus, just in getting their own narrow ideological way.

The UK Government’s approach—the diktat—is the opposite of the democratic European single market approach. The development of the EU single market has been based on the principles of equality, co-operation, co-decision, subsidiarity and, of course, consent. Crucially, it sets a baseline of minimum agreed standards with which all member states’ own rules must be compatible. What a contrast with this hasty, badly written, contemptuous Bill. The Government are even having to amend their own Bill as they go along, so shabby is it. Government amendment 109 is necessary to remove clause 20—how slapdash is that?

On the mutual recognition mechanism, clauses 2 to 9 contain sweeping powers to compel Scotland to accept lower standards, set elsewhere in the UK, on animal welfare, food safety and environmental protections, among a host of other areas.

I do not think that is the case.

Liz Saville Roberts from Wales (Dwyfor Meirionnyd, Plaid Cymru) agreed:

… policies that already exist under the auspices of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government, if they were to be adapted, might then fall within the scope of this Bill. These are popular policies that we have made to cut our own path in the past, and yet this now threatens their future.

Bill Cash got into an exchange with Drew Hendry over whether the EU interferes. Cash said that EU policies have done serious damage to British industry. Hendry disagreed.

Cash said (in part):

The hon. Gentleman puts forward capable arguments. I notice how he weaves his way round these subjects. That is a compliment, in a way, but it does not alter the fact that the people in Scotland will suffer grievously if they continue to have EU regulatory arrangements inflicted on them. The Bill ensures that they will not. I dare say that the Minister is noting what I am saying—I hope that he is—because it is important to understand the damage that has been done.

Liz Saville Roberts expressed her concern over a halt to devolution in Wales and state aid.

Cash replied:

I am always extremely aware of other points of view—I have been subjected to them for the past 35 years in this House, but so far they have not prevailed. I am clear in my mind about the benefits of the United Kingdom as a whole, on all these matters—there are so many aspects that we do not have time to go into today—but state aid is central to the whole question of maintaining our spirit of enterprise. It is central to the degree to which we can provide tax incentives to facilitate and encourage UK jobs for the whole UK, including Scotland. It is central to our ability to encourage competitiveness, based on our own laws, and level up throughout the entire country, including Scotland. This is fundamental stuff

This is not a small matter; this is monumental. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey to talk about this in terms of independence, but people will not thank him, and they will not thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) or anyone from any other part of the United Kingdom when the truth comes home to roost, which is that the EU will not allow us to compete favourably or at all. Its cardinal principle is to make sure that we cannot compete with it, and that is a reason in itself why we have to stand firm on the whole question of the notwithstanding clauses.

The debate was lengthy: more here.

The SNP MPs talked, seemingly at length, about Scotland’s minimum alcohol pricing, which they lauded — one of the great achievements of devolution, in their minds. They fear that the UK government will want to change the policy. Unlikely. Wales adopted it, too.

The Government won on the ensuing votes.

Debate on the bill concludes on Tuesday, September 29.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has tabled the following for debate that day:

Wednesday’s session ended with two Conservative MPs raising a point of order about coronavirus legislation rushed through without proper debate in the Commons.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest) said:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Some of the orders that we are about to deal with are quite dated, but I assume that they have been debated in a Committee upstairs. They touch on very intimate parts of our liberty and our choice. Is there any protocol on the circumstances in which they could be debated on the Floor of the House, rather than upstairs in a Committee stitched up by the Committee of Selection?

Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans replied:

The default procedures of the House, as the right hon. Member knows, are designed such that these measures are not debated on the Floor of the House. Of course, any Committee stages upstairs could have been attended. If any of these measures do not quite fit with his understanding as to what is acceptable, he is able to shout “Object”. I will take that objection, and he will have the opportunity to have his name recorded in a deferred Division tomorrow.

Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) spoke:

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to raise the issue of the inconsistency between quite a few of these remaining orders. Because of the delay in introducing these orders, some of them amend orders that are earlier on the Order Paper. We know that members of the public find it increasingly difficult to comprehend the changing scene of regulation on criminality and restriction of liberty. Surely if a regulation is amended by a subsequent statutory instrument, there should not be a need for the original statutory instrument to be approved by the House. For example, there are two separate statutory instruments relating to the north of England, one dated 25 August and one dated 2 September, and they are inconsistent with each other. Can you explain the reason for this confusion? Would it not be much better if—as I thought the Government had already promised—every regulation brought forward was debated at the earliest opportunity, before the Government had a chance to change their mind?

Nigel Evans repeated his answer to Desmond Swayne.

No objection was raised.

The first part of a review of last week in Parliament concerned coronavirus with a follow-on here.

The other big debates last week were about the Internal Market Bill, a legislative safeguard to preserve Britain’s sovereignty after the Brexit transition period concludes at the end of the year.

Talks with the EU have reached an impasse. Worse, the EU wants to take Northern Ireland hostage, as it were, with the possibility that food from other parts of Britain might be prohibited from reaching it. Absurd, but that is the state of play.

On Saturday, September 12, Steve Baker tweeted:

The Telegraph article in Steve Baker’s tweet explains (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson has accused the European Union of threatening to impose a food “blockade” in the Irish Sea that would destroy the “economic and territorial integrity of the UK”.

Writing in The Telegraph, the Prime Minister made a passionate defence of his decision to alter the Brexit divorce deal, saying he has to protect Britain from the “disaster” of handing Brussels the “power to carve up our country”.

He also issued a direct plea to Tory MPs threatening to rebel over his plans, telling them that, if they stand in his way, they will reduce the chance of getting a trade deal with the EU.

Mr Johnson insisted a Canada-style trade deal with the bloc is still possible and remains his goal, but that Brussels must “take their threats off the table” and rebel MPs must get into line. He also believes the UK will still “prosper mightily” under a narrower, Australia-style trade deal.

The Prime Minister claimed the EU could effectively impose a food blockade across the Irish Sea by refusing to grant the UK approved “third party” status for food exports, which officials say Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has “explicitly” threatened.

The Withdrawal Agreement gives the EU oversight over goods of animal origin being transported from the mainland to Northern Ireland for four years, meaning Brussels could use an “extreme interpretation” to impose tariffs or declare such trade illegal

The Government is trying to rush through legislation that would amend the Withdrawal Agreement and in particular its Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Johnson argues that he has been forced to act because of a “serious misunderstanding” in Brussels about the terms of the agreement, and must unilaterally make changes to it because it has become a “danger to the very fabric of the United Kingdom”.

The EU has told Mr Johnson that, unless he backtracks by the end of the month, the trade talks are over

That weekend, the news was full of MPs, senior legal experts and former Prime Ministers saying that Boris Johnson’s proposals were a ‘violation of international law’:

On Friday a group of more than a dozen MPs, among them former ministers, signalled that they would press ahead with attempts to bar the Government from overriding the Withdrawal Agreement without the support of Parliament

In the House of Commons, Sir Bob Neill, an avowed Remainer, led the rebel charge. Neill is:

the chairman of the Commons justice committee, who has already secured the backing of Damian Green, Theresa May’s former deputy, and ex-solicitor general Sir Oliver Heald.

The Remain media gave airtime to those who said this proposal violates international law, a distinctly Remainer stance. In 2018, Theresa May watered down an excellent Brexit plan — Canada ++. Boris pushed a stronger ‘deal’ last autumn. Now Boris sees what the EU could do next year if the UK doesn’t close this loophole.

In short, those who oppose Boris’s proposed legislation are Remainers. Those who support it are Leavers.

This became evident in Parliamentary debates last week and this week.

On Monday, talkRADIO interviewed two Leavers.

Sir Desmond Swayne gave an early morning interview:

Labour Peer — and Leaver — Kate Hoey went on the air later:

Guido Fawkes published the full text of the bill.

The second reading of the bill took place on Monday, September 14. Excerpts from the debate follow.

Boris introduced the second reading, emphasising its importance to the Union:

The creation of our United Kingdom by the Acts of Union of 1707 and 1801 was not simply a political event, but an act of conscious economic integration that laid the foundations for the world’s first industrial revolution and the prosperity we enjoy today. When other countries in Europe stayed divided, we joined our fortunes together and allowed the invisible hand of the market to move Cornish pasties to Scotland, Scottish beef to Wales, Welsh beef to England, and Devonshire clotted cream to Northern Ireland or wherever else it might be enjoyed.

When we chose to join the EU back in 1973, we also thereby decided that the EU treaties should serve as the legal guarantor of these freedoms. Now that we have left the EU and the transition period is about to elapse, we need the armature of our law once again to preserve the arrangements on which so many jobs and livelihoods depend. That is the fundamental purpose of this Bill, which should be welcomed by everyone who cares about the sovereignty and integrity of our United Kingdom.

We shall provide the legal certainty relied upon by every business in our country, including, of course, in Northern Ireland. The manifesto on which this Government were elected last year promised business in Northern Ireland “unfettered access to the rest of the UK”.

Sir Bob Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst, Con) spoke, asking about upholding ‘the rule of law’, a popular theme among Remainer MPs:

I have listened carefully to what the Prime Minister says, but does he accept that were our interlocutors in the EU to behave in such an egregious fashion, which would clearly be objectionable and unacceptable to us, there is already provision under the withdrawal agreement for an arbitrary arrangement to be put in place? Were we to take reserve powers, does he accept that those reserve powers should be brought into force only as a final backstop if we have, in good faith, tried to act under the withdrawal agreement and are then frustrated? The timing under which they come into force is very important for our reputation as upholders of the rule of law.

The PM responded:

there is the question of tariffs in the Irish sea. When we signed the protocol, we accepted that goods “at risk” of going from Great Britain into the EU via Northern Ireland should pay the EU tariff as they crossed the Irish sea—we accepted that—but that any goods staying within Northern Ireland would not do so. The protocol created a joint committee to identify, with the EU, which goods were at risk of going into Ireland. That sensible process was one achievement of our agreement, and our view is that that forum remains the best way of solving that question.

I am afraid that some in the EU are now relying on legal defaults to argue that every good is “at risk”, and therefore liable for tariffs. That would mean tariffs that could get as high as 90% by value on Scottish beef going to Northern Ireland, and moving not from Stranraer to Dublin but from Stranraer to Belfast within our United Kingdom. There would be tariffs of potentially more than 61% on Welsh lamb heading from Anglesey to Antrim, and of potentially more than 100% on clotted cream moving from Torridge—to pick a Devonshire town at random—to Larne. That is unreasonable and plainly against the spirit of that protocol

MPs on the Opposition benches were restive. The PM said:

To answer the questions that are being shouted at me from a sedentary position, last year we signed the withdrawal agreement in the belief, which I still hold, that the EU would be reasonable. After everything that has recently happened, we must consider the alternative. We asked for reasonableness, common sense, and balance, and we still hope to achieve that through the joint committee process, in which we will always persevere, no matter what the provocation.

Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam, Con) asked about violating international law:

When I was the Attorney General in the previous Government, I was happy to confirm that the ministerial code obliged Ministers to comply with international as well as domestic law. This Bill will give Ministers overt authority to break international law. Has the position on the ministerial code changed?

The PM replied:

No, not in the least. My right hon. and learned Friend can consult the Attorney General’s position on that. After all, what this Bill is simply seeking to do is insure and protect this country against the EU’s proven willingness—that is the crucial point—to use this delicately balanced protocol in ways for which it was never intended.

The Bill includes our first step to protect our country against such a contingency by creating a legal safety net taking powers in reserve, whereby Ministers can guarantee the integrity of our United Kingdom. I understand how some people will feel unease over the use of these powers, and I share that sentiment. I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that I have absolutely no desire to use these measures. They are an insurance policy, and if we reach agreement with our European friends, which I still believe is possible, they will never be invoked. Of course, it is the case that the passing of this Bill does not constitute the exercising of these powers.

Ed Miliband (Doncaster North, Lab) moved an amendment on behalf of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who was not in the Chamber as he was self-isolating. Note ‘the rule of law’:

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:

this House notes that the UK has left the EU; calls on the Government to get on with negotiating a trade deal with the EU; recognises that legislation is required to ensure the smooth, effective working of the internal market across the UK; but declines to give a Second Reading to the Internal Market Bill because this Bill undermines the Withdrawal Agreement already agreed by Parliament, re-opens discussion about the Northern Ireland Protocol that has already been settled, breaches international law, undermines the devolution settlements and would tarnish the UK’s global reputation as a law-abiding nation and the UK’s ability to enforce other international trade deals and protect jobs and the economy.”

There are two questions at the heart of the Bill and of why we will oppose it tonight. First, how do we get an internal market after 1 January within the UK while upholding the devolution settlements, which have been a vital part of our constitution for two decades and are essential to our Union? Secondly, will our country abide by the rule of law—a rules-based international order, for which we are famous around the world and have always stood up?

Those are not small questions. They go to the heart of who we are as a country and the character of this Government

After interventions from a few MPs, Miliband openly challenged the PM, which had to be seen to be believed, it was that bold:

there is also an irony here—the Prime Minister tried to slip this in; I do not know whether the House noticed—which is that this Bill does precisely nothing to address the issue of the transport of food from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. It is about two issues where the Government are going to override international law: exit declarations, Northern Ireland to GB, and the definition of state aid relating to Northern Ireland. If the Prime Minister wants to tell us that there is another part of the Bill that I have not noticed that will deal with this supposed threat of blockade, I will very happily give way to him. I am sure he has read it; I am sure he knows it in detail, because he is a details man. Come on, tell us: what clause protects against the threat, which he says he is worried about, to GB-to-Northern Ireland exports? I give way to him. [Interruption.]

As the PM smouldered at Miliband’s arrogance, Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing intervened:

Order. The right hon. Gentleman cannot give way unless he is asked to.

Miliband carried on ranting, ending with:

I do not understand this. He signed the deal. It is his deal. It is the deal that he said would protect the people of Northern Ireland. I have to say to him, this is not just legislative hooliganism on any issue; it is on one of the most sensitive issues of all. I think we should take the word of two former Prime Ministers of this country who helped to secure peace in Northern Ireland.

An indignant Sammy Wilson (East Antrim, DUP) intervened:

Before the shadow spokesman lectures the Prime Minister about reading documentation or starts lecturing us about the Good Friday agreement, does he not recognise, first of all, that the Good Friday agreement talks about the principle of consent to change the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, which is what this protocol does? The Good Friday agreement has within it a mechanism to safeguard the minorities in Northern Ireland through a cross-community vote, which again the protocol removed. So before he starts talking about the threats to the Good Friday agreement, does he not recognise that the protocol was a threat to it in the first place?

Miliband replied to Sammy Wilson, then went on to invoke other Remainers, Theresa May and former PM John Major:

The right hon. Gentleman did not like the protocol at all. He would rather have not had the protocol. He and I just have a disagreement on this issue. I believe it was necessary to make special arrangements for Northern Ireland, or for the UK to be in the EU customs union to avoid a hard border in Ireland. That is why the Prime Minister came along and said the protocol was the right thing to do

Let us just get this straight for a minute, because I think it is important to take a step back. The Prime Minister is coming to the House to tell us today that his flagship achievement—the deal he told us was a triumph, the deal he said was oven-ready, the deal on which he fought and won the general election—is now contradictory and ambiguous. What incompetence. What failure of governance. How dare he try to blame everyone else? I say to the Prime Minister that this time he cannot blame the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), he cannot blame John Major, he cannot blame the judges, he cannot blame the civil servants, he cannot sack the Cabinet Secretary again. There is only one person responsible for it and that is him. This is his deal. It is his mess. It is his failure. For the first time in his life, it is time to take responsibility. It is time to ’fess up: either he was not straight with the country about the deal in the first place, or he did not understand it.

Enough of Miliband.

Sir William Cash (Stone, Con) spoke on behalf of the bill:

There has never been a level playing field in the EU. Its cardinal objective in these negotiations from the outset has included preventing us from being able to compete fairly. That is not good faith. Under the protocol, the EU would even control our legal tax freedom to create freeports and enterprise zones. All of this would massively undermine our businesses and jobs and therefore our voters

He gave several examples of how the EU operates unfairly, then concluded:

The EU seeks to subject us to a foreign regulator, taking essentially political decisions and armed with undemocratic prohibition powers and authorisations. It would be unconscionable and utterly naive for us to allow that to happen. It would be contrary to our national interests at this time of economic instability generated by coronavirus.

You can watch his speech in full here:

Leavers thought it was an excellent performance:

Bill Cash is part of the pro-Brexit ERG (European Research Group), which issued a three-page briefing memo explaining the importance of passing the Internal Market Bill. Guido Fawkes published it in full.

The SNP’s Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) gave his ‘Scotland’ speech once again and made an egregious emotional appeal, invoking, like other Remainers, the rule of law:

Every Member has a choice. We know that the Bill breaks international law—so many learned individuals, including the previous Attorney General, have told us so. Tonight, this House can tell the Government that it is not on and that this House is not going to be complicit in a breach of international law. I venture that that is the responsibility that each Member has. Every Member—every Member, Madam Deputy Speaker—should examine their conscience. This is about a Bill that breaches the terms of a treaty, the ink of which is barely dry and on the delivery of which the governing party fought an election.

As is his wont, he spoke for ages, taking interventions from Labour MPs supporting his position.

Blackford said that the bill would hamper further devolution. Michael Gove, the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, asked how.

Blackford replied:

I hear the Cabinet Office Minister shout, “How?” Perhaps he should go and talk to the General Teaching Council, and it will give him its views directly. [Interruption.] Really? We have the Business Secretary, who is supposed to be taking this Bill through, sitting laughing—laughing at the legitimate comments made by stakeholders in Scotland. It is little wonder that the Tories are rejected in the way they are at the polls in Scotland

Sir Bob Neill began to come around to see the positive points in the bill yet said he could still not support it without amendments being added.

Sammy Wilson responded, making an excellent point:

The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) said that we have obligations to the rule of law and obligations to the EU. What about the obligations to the people of the United Kingdom to ensure the provisions of the Act of Union? The economic basis of the Act of Union makes it quite clear that there shall be no barriers on trade between different parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that the Government are fulfilling, in part, their obligations to the people of Northern Ireland in this Bill, and that is why we will support it tonight.

There were many excellent contributions from Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs. Opposition MPs were feisty and the debate was lively.

That evening, the bill passed — 340 to 263:

Guido has the list of Conservative abstentions. Theresa May’s name was among those listed.

The Labour amendment to reject the bill entirely failed by 349 votes to 213. TalkRADIO has an analysis.

The bill then moved on to Committee Stage.

On Tuesday, September 15, MPs debated various clauses and amendments.

That might sound boring, but it made for excellent viewing on BBC Parliament. Sparks were flying left and right.

SNP MPs insisted that the bill would decrease their powers under devolution. This is an argument that Conservatives, rightly, find absurd.

Paul Bristow (Peterborough, Con) asked the SNP’s Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey):

The hon. Gentleman called the Office for the Internal Market an unelected quango. Does he accept that, if he had his way, he would be handing powers back to unelected quangos in Brussels?

Drew Hendry replied:

This is the argument that Government Members try to propagate all the time—that if these powers came to Scotland, they would immediately be transferred to unelected people in the EU. Two things are wrong with that. First, nobody in the EU is actually unelected when they make decisions; they are all elected by either the Parliament or the people who go there. The second and most fundamental point is that, under these proposals, the UK Government are simply taking all control and overriding the ability of Members of the Scottish Parliament to do their job by representing the people who voted for them and their choices.

The SNP fear that the UK Parliament will make decisions that override the spending wishes of the Scottish Government. It’s possible but probably unlikely. Still, would that not be better than the EU making those decisions? According to the SNP, no, it would not.

Bill Cash intervened in an attempt to add reason to the debate:

The arguments that I have just heard from the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) are, in my judgment, completely unjustified. [Interruption.] He might expect me to say that; it is hardly surprising. The reality is that the Bill is intended to provide for independent advice and monitoring through the creation of this internal market within the Competition and Markets Authority arrangements. What the provision clearly states—far from it being just a bunch of nodding donkeys, which is more or less what the hon. Gentleman is saying—is that it will be a non-ministerial department, albeit sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and it will have an enormous amount and range of experience and knowledge brought from its predecessor.

Hendry asked him who would be in the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Cash replied, dryly:

What I can say for sure is that it will not be the European Union, and that summarises the argument in a nutshell.

Cash elaborated on the danger of EU interference:

We will need to be able to compete effectively throughout the world. This is a serious matter about a serious issue. What we cannot have, as I mentioned yesterday, is the situation that we have at the moment, which is where authorisations are given by the European Commission that either create discrimination against British businesses or have the perception or the potential for doing so. They will affect the voters in Scotland—and the voters in Sheffield, if I may say so. I was brought up in Sheffield. I saw what the European Coal and Steel Community did to the British steel industry. [Interruption.] I hear what the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) says. The reality is that those businesses were driven out of business by, in many cases, unfair subsidies and unfair state aids that were given to other member states. I can give an example. I happened to know many people who worked at the coalface—I used to play cricket with them when I played for Sheffield—and I can tell Members that the Sheffield steelworkers, whom I also played with on occasion, sometimes it was rugger, found that they were very severely jeopardised by the massive state aids that were given to the German coal industry—it was as much as £4 billion—and authorised by the Commission. For a variety of reasons, we did not get the same kind of treatment here in the United Kingdom. This is all part of the problem of how to have fair and reasonable competition.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West, SNP) directed her comment to Cash, unintentionally getting the soundbite of the day in his reply:

I am going to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Scottish National party wants Scotland to remain part of the European Union—a single market of more than 500 million consumers. The SNP does not wish to put up trade barriers with England. It is his party that wishes to enforce upon us trade barriers if we dare to exercise our democratic right of self-determination, which he has spent the last 40 years banging on about in this House for England.

Cash’s reply was brilliant:

If I may say so, not unsuccessfully.

Cherry was clearly irritated:

That remains to be seen.

There is too much to quote from this lively debate, so do read it here.

An Opposition amendment and a clause were defeated.

The debate in Committee Stage continued on Wednesday, September 16. The Opposition brought forward more amendments.

The theme of devolution continued. Discussion about a possible threat to Welsh devolution accompanied the concerns of Scottish SNP MPs.

John Lamont, a Conservative MP representing the Scottish constituency of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk asked the SNP’s Alison Thewlis why she thought the UK government was working against Scotland’s interests:

The hon. Lady is giving a typically bitter speech around the role of the UK Government into Scotland. Does she not accept that the UK Government and the Scottish Government have worked very closely together on the growth deals and city deals in Scotland? They are very good examples of what can be achieved in Scotland with both Governments working together, rather than the attitude that she takes of opposing everything that this place does.

Thewliss replied:

I am very interested that the hon. Gentleman raises growth deals, because every single growth deal in Scotland has been short-changed by the UK Government. The Scottish Government have put in more than the UK Government to those growth deals and we are still waiting for the money for some of those growth deals to be realised.

Andrew Bowie, another Conservative MP representing a Scottish constituency (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) couldn’t change her mind, either.

The Conservatives brought logic to the debate, something Opposition MPs were unable to do.

A Labour amendment, brought forward by Ed Miliband, requiring financial assistance to be the subject of a framework agreement to be agreed by resolution of each House of Parliament was defeated: 330-208.

That day, Boris Johnson appeared before a Select Committee to explain why the Internal Market Bill was necessary:

He told Labour MP Hilary Benn that he thought the EU representatives were negotiating in bad faith:

It is always possible that I am mistaken. Perhaps they will prove my suspicions wrong.

On Thursday, September 17, Guido Fawkes outlined the debates which took place this week (emphases in the original):

The Government will table two amendments to its own Bill on Tuesday, firstly a redrafted version of the Neill Amendment – setting in stone the need for a parliamentary vote beyond the requirements of ordinary statutory instruments, and secondly a clause to prevent significant litigation of the enactment of the controversial provisions. Tightening up the ability to deploy with the consent of the House.

Of course, the Government insists it still does not want to have to use these powers of last resort. But now it will have them in case the EU don’t offer concessions…

I’ll cover those tomorrow.

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