Furious Speaker warns Johnson over ‘entirely unacceptable’ handling of Covid announcement

·3-min read
 (UK Parliament)
(UK Parliament)

Sir Lindsay Hoyle delivered an extraordinary double rebuke to Boris Johnson on Monday, saying it was “entirely unacceptable” that the prime minister held his televised news conference about changes to the Covid roadmap timetable without informing MPs in the House of Commons.

The House of Commons speaker said Johnson “must now lead from the top and follow the guidance” in the ministerial code, which states major announcements should be made first in parliament.

“I will be pursuing this matter with him,” Sir Lindsay said. “I do not find it acceptable at all. Members of this house are elected to come here to serve their constituents, not to serve them via Sky or BBC.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock took questions from MPs at 8.30pm, two hours after the TV announcement.

As he waited on the front bench, Sir Lindsay said: “The prime minister should be here. I am sorry if his dinner would have been affected because I was told he was in Brussels. The nearest Brussels tonight were the sprouts on his dinner being served.

“I say now, prime minister, you are on my watch and I want you to treat this house correctly.”

Sir Lindsay earlier said Mr Hancock’s statement only came after he “got involved” with Downing Street, adding: “We’re not accepting it and I’m at the stage where I’m beginning to look for other avenues if they’re not going to treat this house seriously.”

He was responding to points of order from two senior Conservative MPs, Peter Bone and Sir Edward Leigh, who voiced their unhappiness with the handling of the announcement.

Mr Bone, the Tory MP for Wellingborough, told MPs he could “think of no more important policy announcement than changes to regulations that restrict the freedom of the British people”, meaning it was all the more “concerning” that the press and public were being informed before legislators.

“What makes this matter more concerning is that about 30 minutes ago the media were given an embargoed copy of the statement,” he said during an appearance at the Commons. “So the media have the statement in advance, there will be a public press conference at 6pm and the last people to know about the changes to the Covid regulations will be members of parliament.”

Mr Bone added it was “very disrespectful” and even suggested the move might be considered “a contempt of parliament”.

This was followed by a senior figure in the Conservative Party, MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, querying if it would be possible for the government to provide a statement to parliament at 6pm – before Mr Johnson goes live to the nation.

“If somebody’s willing to do that from Downing Street, I will always ensure that this house will hear it,” Sir Lindsay responded.

“My view is I was told no decisions have been taken. That’s why I’m more shocked to know there is an embargo [with the press], a list of what’s going to happen to this country, without this house knowing.”

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