It isn't clear how many Tory MPs will rebel against the new tiered system of Covid restrictions this evening, not least because the Covid Recovery Group has said it isn't whipping its members. Senior CRG members are suggesting there could be 30 to 40 MPs in the ‘no’ lobbies tonight, which could be expectation management, as the whips are trying to talk the numbers up.
But one thing is clear: ministers have not made it easier for would-be rebels to climb down. The publication of the government’s impact assessment last night was widely derided, not least because it didn't really contain an assessment of the economic impact at all. To add further insult to injury, today's Times reports that there is a 'secret dossier' detailing the economic impacts to different sectors, which has not been made available to MPs.
At Treasury Questions just now, Mel Stride, who chairs the Treasury Select Committee, asked the Chancellor for more details of this analysis, asking: 'Given the vote tonight, could I ask my right honourable friend why this analysis has not been published?'
Rishi Sunak replied by referring to 'the analysis we did publish', saying this did provide specific links to information. But he did not explain why the dashboard, which reportedly gives different sectors a red, amber or green rating, had not been published. Nor did he deny its existence.
It is strange that ministers think they can pull a fast one on their colleagues by publishing such an uninformative document. This technique has never worked to quell a rebellion before, and only enrages backbenchers who feel they are being treated like fools by their party leadership. And you don't need a detailed knowledge of the Tory party to understand that this kind of insult usually leads to a rebellion getting worse.