Is the government heading for a Commons defeat on its coronavirus powers? Judging from the speeches on the Tory benches in the chamber this afternoon, things are not looking particularly promising for Boris Johnson. Desmond Swayne used the debate to ask whether the Prime Minister has been abducted by Dr Strangelove and reprogrammed by Sage while Lucy Allan argued science is often just as much about opinion as politics.
The critical conversations, however, have been going on out of sight. As Tory support grows for the Brady amendment — which seeks to give parliament a say on changes to coronavirus restrictions currently covered by emergency laws — government chief whip Mark Spencer has spent his afternoon meeting with would-be Tory rebels.
While it's still unclear whether the amendment will even be selected on Wednesday for a vote (the expectation in government is that it will be ruled out of scope by the Speaker), the size of the potential rebellion has been enough to focus minds. Coffee House understands that those behind the amendment believe that support has now risen well above the 43 who originally signed it — now they believe support is closer to 80.
Former ERG chair Steve Baker described the meeting online as 'cordial and constructive'. The expectation among those rebels who attended today's meeting is that the government is in 'listening mode' and will come back with a proposal in due course. However, while there is room for negotiation here, a red line among many of the leading rebels is that it isn't enough to be given more time for speeches, MPs need a say — they need votes. Up until now, that's something No. 10 has been reluctant to give. Watch this space.