Speaker Accuses Boris Johnson Of Treating MPs With 'Contempt' On Covid Laws

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said the way the government has exercised its powers during the coronavirus pandemic had been "totally unsatisfactory".

Boris Johnson has been accused by the Commons Speaker of treating parliament with “contempt” by bringing in new coronavirus restrictions without debates or votes.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said the prime minister had shown a “total disregard” for the Commons by publishing new regulations just hours before they come into force, and before they have been laid in Parliament.

Johnson has been facing a major rebellion from Tory MPs who feel he has been ruling “by decree” by passing Covid-19 laws without prior approval from the Commons.

The government has instead resorted to a parliamentary procedure that allows it to make regulations and then seek retrospective approval from MPs, almost always without a proper debate or vote.

Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 backbench Tory committee, had hoped to force Johnson into granting MPs a veto over new regulations with an amendment on Wednesday afternoon.

But Hoyle said he could not select Brady’s amendment because it could lead to legal uncertainty as MPs were only being asked by the government to make a “narrow, binary” choice about whether emergency powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 should continue.

“I have not taken this decision lightly. I am looking to the government to remedy a situation I regard as completely unsatisfactory,” the Speaker said at the start of prime minister’s questions.

“I am now looking to the government to rebuild trust with this House and not treat it with the contempt that it has shown.”

Hoyle did hold out an olive branch to rebels and put the government on notice by offering “very sympathetic consideration” to MPs’ demands for urgent questions or emergency debates that force ministers to the Commons to justify new restrictions.

And he urged Johnson to bring forward “substantive motions”, which crucially can be amended by rebels, on the operation of coronavirus emergency powers.

“The way in which the government has exercised its powers to make secondary legislation during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory,” Hoyle said.

“All too often important statutory instruments have been published a matter of hours before coming into force and some explanations why important measures have come into effect before they have been laid in this House have been unconvincing and show a total disregard for the House.”

But Hoyle said he could not select the Brady amendment for debate on Wednesday afternoon, stressing his decision was “guided by professional advice”.

He concluded that the amendment would “risk giving rise to uncertainty about the decision the House has taken” on extending the Coronavirus Act 2020 emergency powers, and could lead to challenges in the courts.

“Lack of clarity in such matters risks undermining the rule of law,” the Speaker said.


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