Boris Johnson is facing open revolt from Tory backbenchers over new lockdown restrictions in England limiting social gatherings to six people and introducing new ‘Covid marshals’ to police compliance with distancing guidance.
One former minister branded the tightening of rules “absolutely grotesque”, while another said: “It is time for us to actually start living like a free people, not subjecting ourselves to constantly shifting legal requirements.”
Meanwhile, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle indicated his “disappointment” that the government had not provided an opportunity for MPs to debate the new rules before they become law in England on Monday.
As with many previous lockdown restrictions, the new “rule of six” will simply be signed into law by health secretary Matt Hancock, without the need for a parliamentary vote.
Reports suggest that senior Tories want younger children to be excluded from the maximum total of six members of two households permitted to meet, as they are in Scotland and Wales. Leaving them out of the tally would help larger families maintain social contacts and celebrate Christmas together, they argue.
Tory former minister Steve Baker told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it is now time to say that this is not a fit legal environment for the British people.
“It’s time to move to a voluntary system – unless the Government can demonstrate otherwise.
“And it is time for us to actually start living like a free people, not subjecting ourselves to constantly shifting legal requirements, which I think now no-one can fully understand.
“It seems to me the effect of having Covid marshals will be to turn every public space in Britain into the equivalent of going through airport security where we are badgered and directed… I’m not willing to live like this.”
Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne said the new rules were “absolutely grotesque”.
He told Times Radio: “It is an intrusion into family life, to individual liberty, right of association and also we’re threatened with marshals in our streets.
“What powers are they going to have to direct us and order us to do things that we’d otherwise not wish to do?
“All this is done without any debate in Parliament or any vote in Parliament. How has this happened in a democracy, that the Government can rule by order in this way without democratic restraint?”
Veteran Tory backbencher Sir Christopher Chope raised concerns in the House of Commons over the government’s failure to lay “draconian” new Covid-19 regulations before Parliament.
Raising a point of order, the Christchurch MP said: “I’m very concerned about the lack of opportunity for people, the public first of all, to see the text of these new regulations and I’m also concerned about the continuing reluctance of the Government to give any opportunities to members to debate this.
“What we are talking about is the most draconian introduction of new restrictions on our liberty with criminal sanctions and we need to be made aware of what’s happening and given the opportunity of debating it.”
The Speaker indicated his sympathy with Sir Christopher’s complaint as he responded: “Can I say I share your disappointment as well. I think we should all be informed and the country should also know what’s going on.”