UK parliament may be recalled to vote on further Covid curbs, says minister


Any further measures to limit the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus would lead to a recall of the House of Commons for a vote, the cabinet minister Grant Shapps has said.

After disquiet among backbenchers over plans for vaccine certificates led to a rebellion by 99 Conservative MPs on Tuesday, Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he believed the precautions now in pace would be enough to keep Omicron under control.

But he said: “If more measures were required … then of course the house would be recalled and those measures would be put to the house. But I don’t think that’s going to need to happen this year.”

Tuesday night’s rebellion, the largest of Boris Johnson’s premiership, meant that the package passed only with the support of Labour MPs and has led many to question whether the prime minister would be willing to risk a similar outcome – or even a defeat – by taking further action.

Shapps suggested that he understood the motivations of those MPs who voted against the government’s plans.

“No one wants to curtail freedoms and MPs rightly think about these things extremely carefully before voting,” he said. “I didn’t become an MP or go into government to do those things. We know though that usually with coronavirus … early action often removes greater pain later on.”

With Johnson facing increasing disquiet among Tory backbenchers and the possibility of a byelection defeat in the previously safe seat of North Shropshire on Thursday, there have also been concerns that a string of revelations about parties in Downing Street and at Conservative headquarters last year have reduced his authority when imposing new restrictions.

But Shapps insisted that both the public and his own party still trust Johnson. He said: “When it comes down to the prime minister and his leadership through coronavirus, he went out on Sunday night and asked people to get boosted now, and I was walking past queues yesterday – enormous queues round the block of people wanting to get their booster jabs. That is where we see the authority.”

Asked about the latest damaging disclosure about a Christmas party last year – a “raucous” event at Conservative campaign headquarters (CCHQ) attended by then-mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey – Shapps said that it was “disgraceful”.

“This time last year my dad was in hospital – we couldn’t visit him, we didn’t know whether we’d see him again, we couldn’t visit him for four months and we were very careful to stick to all of the rules,” he told BBC Breakfast. “I expect everybody should do the same.”

Shapps acknowledged that the CCHQ photo included four members of party staff seconded to the Bailey campaign, but added: “That was not a Conservative party thing but rather the mayoral candidacy, as I understand it.” He said the four staff members “have already received disciplinary action”.

Asked about images of long queues for booster jabs and shortages of lateral flow tests, Shapps said logistics rather than supply itself was the main issue. “Clearly, the prime minister talking about asking people to test and the like has caused a spike. There’s plenty of supply – it is actually a question of getting more Royal Mail and perhaps Amazon delivery slots to people’s homes,” he said.

Shapps suggested the situation would improve in the next couple of days. And he said that in order to comply with advice to test before mixing with others, people should “pass around” stockpiled tests at home.

Earlier, the former backbench MP and ex-minister Damian Green, one of those to rebel on Tuesday night, said that “while I supported the government’s other measures they brought forward because I did think they would improve public health, I’ve seen no evidence that that particular proposal on a combination of vaccine passports and lateral flow tests would actually make anyone safer”.

He said that his own vote was not a vote of no confidence in the prime minister during a national emergency. “That may be the case for some people – it’s absolutely not for me,” he said. “What I want to see is obviously, the government get to grips with the pandemic in the way they have been.”

He said any further restrictions should also be voted on by MPs. He said: “If some of the more apocalyptic warnings are true, then we may be facing more restrictions, but I will want to know that they’re going to be effective and indeed, obviously, that they’ve been approved by parliament.”

Source: The Guardian