England to enter lockdown as MPs approve plan – but PM witnesses Tory revolt
Written by on 4 November 2020
England’s fresh month-long lockdown has been confirmed, with MPs officially approving the new shutdown.
In a House of Commons vote on Wednesday, MPs supported the new coronavirus measures by 516 to 38, a majority of 478.
It means that, from one minute past midnight, pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops will close across England and stay shut until 2 December.
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People will also be told to stay at home except for when attending school, college, university or work, or going food shopping.
A total of 34 Tory MPs rebelled against the lockdown, including former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory backenchers.
Another 21 Tory MPs had no vote recorded, including ex-prime minister Theresa May – despite her having spoken in the debate prior to the vote.
During the debate, Mr Johnson told MPs he hoped businesses would be able to re-open again in the run-up to Christmas.
But he warned that, without acting now, the country could suffer deaths “on a grievous scale”, with hospitals in “extraordinary trouble” by next month.
Moments before the Commons vote result came, it was announced a further 25,177 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK and another 492 had died after contracting the virus.
The prime minister saw the lockdown approved with Labour’s support. However, he witnessed a string of unhappy Conservative MPs using the Commons debate to criticise his coronavirus strategy.
Sir Graham told MPs he would vote against the lockdown “with greater conviction” than any other vote he had cast in his 23 years in the Commons.
“The thing that troubles me most is that the government is reaching too far into the private and family lives of our constituents,” he said.
“I think there is an, unintended perhaps, arrogance in assuming the government has the right to do so.”
Sir Iain said he would not support the lockdown, telling MPs it “was not necessary now”.
He also attacked the “appalling” leak of the government’s lockdown plan to the media, prior to its announcement.
Sir Charles Walker told MPs he believed the legislation was “terribly unjust” and “cruel” in parts.
“I will have no part in criminalising parents seeing their children, and children for seeing their parents,” he said.
Mark Harper said he did not believe ministers had adequately made the case for the lockdown and criticised “several flaws” in the government’s COVID data.
And Philip Davies said that both he and the public “no longer have any faith” in the government’s strategy.
Meanwhile, the prime minister sent a note of apology to his predecessor after he walked out of the Commons during Mrs May’s contribution to the debate.
The ex-premier had raised concerns about a lack of data on the impact of the government’s COVID decisions on the economy, mental health, domestic abuse and non-coronavirus treatments.
“The government must have made this analysis, made this assessment: let us see it and make our own judgments,” she said.
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Analysis: Boris Johnson will be worried by Tory rebellion – by Tom Rayner, political correspondent
Boris Johnson did not lose the vote, but many of his own MPs appear to be losing faith in him.
Downing Street’s efforts to neuter the rebellion by offering scientific briefings to backbenchers in recent days appears to have had limited effect.
The final number of Conservative MPs to vote against the government was 32, a higher number than had been expected.
But even that was not a true reflection of the level of antipathy felt by many of them towards the government’s lockdown proposals. The vote itself may have been binary, but the debate was far from black and white.
By no means did all the Tory MPs who expressed concerns with aspects of the new lockdown rules vote against the proposals when it came to it. Some made clear they would give the benefit of the doubt this time, but not without caveats.
Former minister Nusrat Ghani said she would reluctantly vote in favour of the legislation, but warned she was putting the government “on 28 days notice”.
Former prime minister Theresa May lambasted the government over the way scientific data had been presented, and the decision to make religious services illegal. She did not rebel, but her abstention nonetheless represents a major rebuke to her successor.
Labour’s backing for the measures meant that a rebellion large enough to defeat the government was never a realistic possibility, but the prime minister will be worried about who did choose to take a stand.
Overall, this was not a tantrum by serial trouble-makers – it was a rebellion of some of the most senior and influential Conservatives not on the government pay-roll.
The chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, his vice chair Sir Charles Walker, former party leader Iain Duncan Smith and former chief whip Mark Harper are notable on the list of those who voted against.
Alongside MPs from the Brexiteer libertarian wing of the party, such as former cabinet minister Esther McVey, Peter Bone and John Redwood, were a number of former ministers normally associated with what was once seen as the ‘Remainer’ centrist side of the camp – Steve Brine, Johnathon Djanogly, and Jackie Doyle-Price.
The make-up of this rebellion is not like any we have seen before.
Will there be consequences for the rebels? Earlier this afternoon, a spokesman for Mr Johnson made clear that was unlikely, pointing to the fact the prime minister “understands where his MPs are coming from” and has been open about the regrets he feels himself.
That is not a tone we normally hear from Downing Street.