The government has just suffered a further verbal drubbing for the way it announced it would be delaying the roadmap out of Covid restrictions.
Matt Hancock gave a statement in the Commons tonight, a couple of hours after the Prime Minister announced all the details of the delay. Before he spoke, though, he had to listen to a still-angry Speaker explaining why this was so unacceptable.
Hoyle once again described the government’s behaviour as ‘entirely unacceptable’, adding that it was ‘disrespectful to the House and to our constituents’. He also reiterated a point made by Peter Bone in the Chamber earlier, that it was a breach of the Ministerial Code for the government to fail to make important announcements to parliament first.
Hoyle wasn’t the only one to complain about the way ministers had behaved. Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who is now chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, also said very politely that ‘it should be the Prime Minister who is here this evening’ while adding his voice to the Speaker’s dissatisfaction at the way parliament was treated.
Hunt is supportive of extending the restrictions but there is a clear feeling from him and other Conservative MPs that the government is being careless and disrespectful towards parliament. Even though the Commons will approve the extension of the measures with a Tory rebellion, the patience of MPs is running thin on the approach that ministers are taking.
Some senior Conservatives are rather exasperated that it has taken colleagues this long to react to what they feel is a very longstanding case of parliament being treated with contempt. One, who has watched his fellow Conservatives approve more and more restrictions over the past year, remarks rather acidly that he doesn’t quite understand what they thought would happen when they gave ministers a free pass with such poor scrutiny for months on end.
Now, the fear is that the government will increasingly take for granted the support of parliament for restrictions in future if, for instance, there are warnings about a bigger-than-usual threat to the NHS of seasonal flu this winter.
Ministers should be fearful of falling into this complacency, too.