Boris Johnson is facing a mounting Tory rebellion over his latest coronavirus crackdown as Conservative MPs demand the Government recall Parliament so ministers can ‘come clean’ over the new mutant strain of the disease.
Senior Tory figures have blasted the Government’s decision to tighten Covid curbs over Christmas and to impose a new Tier 4 lockdown after MPs went on holiday.
They claimed the timing of the announcement by the Prime Minister on Saturday was ‘convenient’ amid accusations Number 10 knew last week it was going to increase restrictions.
Tory MPs said this morning the Government had again been ‘bounced by the science’ despite experts having previously got their forecasts and modelling wrong.
They accused Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance of ‘stepping back into the shadows when it suits them’ to leave ministers to take the flak for controversial decisions.
The growing revolt came as Mr Johnson held crisis talks with ministers after France banned lorries carrying freight from the UK and countries around the world ended flights to Britain amid fears of the new coronavirus variant.
The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee this morning after warnings of ‘significant disruption’ around the Channel ports in Kent.
Hauliers were urged to stay away from the area because of potential problems as the end of the Brexit transition period also looms on December 31.
Kent Police said they were implementing Operation Stack in a bid to ease potential congestion, while the Department for Transport said Manston Airport was also being prepared as another contingency measure against the anticipated level of disruption.
Countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, and Bulgaria announced restrictions on UK travel following the disclosure that the highly infectious new strain is widespread across the South East of England.
The international crackdown came amid rising Tory anger over the Government’s latest coronavirus curbs as MPs demanded Parliament be recalled this week.
Former minister Sir Desmond Swayne said ‘it does have all the characteristics of the Government being bounced by the science, as it was right at the beginning of the arrangements when we first went into lockdown last March’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘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 added: ‘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.’
Sir Desmond suggested the Government had known for a while it was going to launch a fresh crackdown but waited for MPs to break for Christmas before announcing the measures in order to avoid a Commons backlash.
He said: ‘Yes, they’ve been looking at it [the new variant]since September and 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.’
He said a failure to recall Parliament would demonstrate the Government is ‘frightened of its Parliament’.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, said it is ‘clear that Tier 4 is much the same as a third lockdown’ and the decision should be urgently debated by MPs.
Writing in The Telegraph he said: ‘It’s too easy just to blame Government ministers for all these decisions – what about their scientific advisers, who have a vital role in deciding these restrictions but are adept at stepping back into the shadows when it suits them?’
He added: ‘Why did they not alert ministers to the dangers earlier? Especially when, as we now know, scientists learnt about this mutation back in September.’
Sir Iain pointed to previous mistakes made by the Government’s scientific advisers and said that ‘when epidemiologists try to produce forecasts they are no more accurate than economists’.
Sir Charles Walker, the vice chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, echoed a similar sentiment yesterday as he said: ‘The Government, in my view, knew on Thursday, possibly even Wednesday, that they were going to pull the plug on Christmas but they waited till Parliament had gone.
‘That, on top of everything else, is a resigning matter. I am not asking for the Government to collapse. I am asking for a secretary of state to take some responsibility.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday that ministers were only informed on Friday that an increase in infections in London and the South East of England was linked to a mutant new strain of coronavirus.
Mr Johnson then announced the new Tier 4 measures and tighter Christmas rules yesterday.
The new Tier 4 restrictions mean more than 16 million people across London, the South East and East of England have now been told to stay at home as much as they can.
Whitehall sources suggested the stay at home message could last until most over-50s have received a coronavirus vaccine – a timeline which would likely take the country to Easter or beyond.