Tory MPs have demanded that the Commons be recalled during Christmas recess if the Government wants to stretch new Covid restrictions beyond three weeks.
Calls for MPs to have a say on any extension to the rules, brought in to tackle the omicron variant , grew on Monday after complaints that MPs were only set to be offered an initial debate and vote after the measures were implemented.
Rules legally mandating face coverings in shops and on public transport, plus a directive ordering people arriving into England to take a PCR test within two days and self-isolate until the result, come into force at 4am on Tuesday .
However, a Commons debate will not take place until Tuesday afternoon, with a vote likely by around 4pm. The measures are expected to pass.
On Monday, three Conservatives challenged ministers to recall the House next month if the rules are to be extended.
Mark Harper, a former Tory chief whip, highlighted that they would expire or be renewed on Dec 20, four days after Parliament rises for its three-week Christmas recess.
He demanded a guarantee from Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons Leader, that the House would be recalled if the measures were to continue beyond then.
In the wake of tensions over the Owen Paterson sleaze row , Mr Harper warned: “There has been a diminution in the trust between backbenchers and ministers, and I think giving a clear commitment to treat Parliament seriously would help heal that rift.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Harper was being a “little unfair” on ministers and declined to give an assurance that MPs would be recalled, adding: “It was only Oliver Cromwell who made us sit on Christmas Day.”
Bob Seely, the Conservative MP, said it would be “an issue” if the new rules were extended and MPs were unable to debate it until the House returned in the New Year.
Mr Rees-Mogg said recall over Christmas was “extraordinarily rare”, adding: “I am not convinced that all 650 members want to be back here on the 24th or 25th of December.” He said “we all hope” the measures would expire next month.
Meanwhile, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen warned Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, that suppressing parliamentary scrutiny of an extension would amount to “government by diktat”. Mr Javid said the Government’s approach was “the right one”.
It came as Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, hit out at “bad habits” ministers had developed during the pandemic, including legislating retrospectively. “This is not the right way to do legislation … This is not the way the House should progress,” Mr Bryant said.
Mr Rees-Mogg said the Government did not ordinarily take decisions before passing laws, but in this instance the matter had been “genuinely urgent”, justifying the sequence of events.
A government source said on Monday: “We’ve always had a caveat that the Government can act with immediacy if there’s a public health reason – particularly for the travel restrictions brought in over the weekend.
“This is the earliest possible time to do the debate and vote. The House wasn’t sitting from Thursday until Monday and this is very new information [about the omicron variant] that came to us on Friday. The Government had to act as quickly as possible.”
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