A senior Tory MP has suggested Boris Johnson and scientific advisers deliberately withheld information about the more virulent new Covid variant in order to avoid parliament being given a vote on new Christmas restrictions.
Sir Desmond Swayne was one of several Conservative backbenchers demanding an urgent recall of the Commons to discuss and approve the raft of new emergency regulations over the festive period.
Parliament broke up for its Christmas recess on Thursday, the day before the PM hosted a cabinet subcommittee meeting that discussed the extent of the new coronavirus mutation that has a much higher transmission rate and has led to rocketing cases in London and the south-east.
MPs have been told to be on standby for any urgent breakthrough in the Brexit trade talks, with a recall of parliament possible between now and December 31, the deadline for the UK leaving its “transition period” under EU rules.
But the new Covid regulations which came into force at midnight on Saturday night do not need Commons approval as they are part of emergency laws used by health secretary Matt Hancock to police the pandemic.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Swayne said the new variant had been known about for weeks and suggested the timing of the announcements was designed to keep MPs out of the process.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps disputed the claim, saying the government “literally” couldn’t have acted any faster.
“They’ve been looking at it since September and how convenient when Parliament went into recess on Thursday suddenly they were then able to produce this revelation,” said Swayne.
“Let’s see the evidence then, let’s have Parliament back and show us and convince us. Come clean.
“I want Parliament to be recalled so we can scrutinise properly in a democracy decisions that are being made which affect our economy radically and our liberty.
“The recall of Parliament requires a request by the government to the Speaker. Why would the government be so reluctant to recall Parliament?
“Is it that it’s not sure of the evidence that it has and that its case isn’t as convincing as it ought to be? What’s government frightened of? Frightened of its Parliament?”
Swayne said MPs had been once again “bounced” into dramatic changes to public liberty.
“it does have all the characteristics of the government being bounced by the science, as it was right at the beginning of the arrangements when we first went into lockdown last March,” he said.
“The arrangements for Christmas were explicitly voted on by Parliament. If they’re to be changed then in my view, Parliament should vote again.”
Former minister Tim Loughton also demanded the recall of Parliament.
“I think Parliament does need to go back and discuss this and be able to scrutinise the government much more closely,” he told Radio 4′s Westminster Hour.
“We need to be much more transparent on this and there needs to be logic and consistency in some of the measures being brought forward and I don’t think there’s complete logic and consistency in some of the changes to Christmas itself, for example.”
But transport secretary Grant Shapps insisted that the government had acted as quickly as it could on the new evidence of the precise extent of the new variant within the south-east.
“On Friday the scientists came to us and said: ‘Actually we’ve now analysed the data, we’ve now done more of the science on this and there is a real problem,’ he said.
“On Saturday, I was involved in the emergency meetings. We acted, so literally you almost couldn’t have been faster about it.”