Tory MPs call for Parliament to be recalled after changes to Covid-19 rules

George Ryan and Elizabeth Arnold, PA
·4-min read

Parliament should be recalled to allow MPs to “hold ministers to account” for the Government’s decision to bolster Covid-19 restrictions ahead of Christmas, a Conservative MP has said.

Former Conservative chief whip – and chairman of the Covid Recovery Group – Mark Harper has led the calls for a recall, while Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne has accused the Government of being “frightened” of such scrutiny.

However, a trade union which represents parliamentary staff has said MPs should sit virtually if Parliament is recalled in order to protect workers.

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Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

In a tweet, Mr Harper said: “The developing serious situation arising from the Government’s announcement yesterday reinforces why Parliament should be recalled to debate these matters and hold ministers to account on behalf of our constituents.”

Sir Desmond told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “How convenient when Parliament went into recess on Thursday suddenly they were then able to produce this revelation.

“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?”

He added: “The arrangements for Christmas were explicitly voted on by Parliament. If they’re to be changed then in my view, Parliament should vote again.”

He continued: “Parliament voted explicitly for a certain set of arrangements, it seems to be perfectly proper therefore that Parliament should be consulted when those are changed, irrespective of the Government acting in an emergency, nevertheless it’s perfectly proper to recall Parliament at the beginning of this week to at least ratify those changes.

“Explain to us – we are after all a democracy, explain to the elected representatives the evidence that they have and why they’ve reached this decision.”

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said: “Prospect and the other parliamentary staff unions have been calling for months for Parliament to move to a fully hybrid system before the situation in London got worse – (Commons Leader) Jacob Rees-Mogg refused at every turn.

“We are now in the situation where London and much of the South East have been effectively forced back into lockdown, yet staff are facing the potential full recall of Parliament either in relation to Covid or to approve a Brexit trade deal, if one is reached.

“Democracy must be allowed to continue but it must not be at the expense of the safety of parliamentary staff. Any recall must be done on a fully remote basis so that the numbers of people entering Westminster can be kept to an absolute minimum.

“Our professional staff have already proven that they can manage the technological challenge well.

“All we need now is for Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Government to abandon their baseless and dangerous opposition to remote sittings and we can move forward without putting anyone at unnecessary risk.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has written to Speaker Lindsay Hoyle urging him to recall Parliament virtually.

“The sudden changes to government guidelines for Christmas… must alone justify the recall of Parliament,” Sir Ed wrote.

“Yet we now, as a result of this new (coronavirus) variant, see countries around the world closing their borders to British flights, with the situation at the Dover-Calais border now at crisis level.

“I would also note these multiple crises are occurring at one of the most important moments in our country’s history, as we seek to secure a future trade deal with our biggest trading partner, the European Union.”

Meanwhile, amid the closure of the French border and queues of lorries across Kent, Conservative former minister Sir John Redwood called on the country to “grow and make more” to reduce the reliance on imports.

In a tweet, he said: “French closure of ports owing to CV19 whilst we are in the single market is bad news. Time to use the lorry parks we have built. We rely on imports too much. Let’s grow and make more at home.”