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World U.K. Labour Set to Back Tory Rebels Over Johnson’s Covid Powers

14:16  25 september  2020
14:16  25 september  2020 Source:   bloomberg.com

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party is likely to back a bid by Conservative rebels to curb Boris Johnson’s emergency coronavirus powers, increasing pressure on the premier to back down or risk a damaging parliamentary defeat.

Boris Johnson et al. holding wine glasses: Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, departs following a meeting of cabinet ministers in London, U.K. © Bloomberg Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, departs following a meeting of cabinet ministers in London, U.K.

The government’s pandemic legislation is up for review on Sept. 30, and at least 40 Tories have put their name to an amendment that would give Parliament more of a say over any new government measures to tackle the virus. In theory, that could be enough to overturn Johnson’s 78-seat majority -- if the opposition parties vote for it.

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Labour is likely to support the amendment to give Parliament more scrutiny because a growing number of MPs are uncomfortable with the government rolling out new restrictions without warning, according to a party official, who asked not to be named because the position is not formalized. The party hasn’t added any of its shadow minister’s to the signatories to avoid scaring off other Tories, the official said.

An official for the Scottish National Party, who also asked not to be named, said the issue is still under internal consideration.

Though the parliamentary math is complicated by the absence of Sinn Fein MPs and the presence of the non-voting speaker and his deputies, Labour’s support make the numbers start to look uncomfortable for Johnson. The government has relied on sweeping powers to enforce lockdowns and other measures to try to contain Covid-19, which is again spreading rapidly across the U.K.

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Climbdown?

That’s why the Labour official expects the government to compromise with Tory lawmakers to head off the rebellion, rather than risk a vote.

Still, the issue is a sign of growing discontent among predominantly libertarian Tories about the stringency of restrictions put on the British public.

This week Steve Baker, the Tory who tweeted the amendment on Thursday, asked Johnson in the House of Commons to “please consider whether some innovative thinking can be applied to make sure that the authority of this house is brought to bear on these measures in advance, so that the public can have confidence that their representatives are authorizing the use of law to constrain their freedom?”

Johnson gave a conciliatory reply, saying “there should be a proper debate of these issues in Parliament.”

If the amendment is passed, it would mean ministers could only implement major new measures to combat the pandemic once Parliament has been given the chance to “debate and vote upon” them.

Its main sponsor is the influential Tory Graham Brady. Other signatories include Damian Green, who served as former Prime Minister Theresa May’s de facto deputy, as well as the opposition Labour Party’s former deputy leader, Harriet Harman.

In a sign of how the politics may play out next week, the wording of the amendment already contains an element of compromise: Parliament should be given a vote “as far as is reasonably practicable,” it says.

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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