Great Britain

Commons speaker furious at ‘unacceptable’ government handling of Covid announcement

Sir Lindsay Hoyle has told MPs he thinks it is “totally unacceptable” that Boris Johnson held his televised news conference about changes to the Covid roadmap timetable before informing the House of Commons.

Two-and-a-half hours later, his health secretary Matt Hancock will take questions from MPs in the Commons.

It has been widely reported today that ministers have already agreed the last phase of easing lockdown and social distancing measures will be delayed until 19 July, due to the threat of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Sir Lindsay, speaker of the Commons, accused No 10 of “running roughshod” over MPs by not informing them first of any changes.

Clearly frustrated, he told MPs present in the chamber on Monday afternoon: “Can I just say, we weren’t going to get a statement until I got involved with Downing Street. The fact is this has been forced to actually get a statement today, it was going to be left to tomorrow, which would have been totally unacceptable.”

Taking Mr Johnson’s busy schedule into account, Sir Lindsay said he understood “the prime minister at the moment is on Nato, [and] there is a big conference going on”, but that “this House needs to know [what ministers have decided], it needs to know first”.

“I find it totally unacceptable that once again, once again, we see Downing Street running roughshod over members of Parliament. We’re not accepting it and I’m at the stage where I’m beginning to look for other avenues if they’re not going to treat this House seriously,” he said.

Sir Lindsay added he “thinks it’s time for me to have a meeting with the prime minister to actually put on the record ... with him that this House matters”.

He was responding to points of order from two senior Conservative MPs, Peter Bone and Sir Edward Leigh, who voiced their unhappiness with the handling of the announcement too.

Mr Bone, the Tory MP for Wellingborough, told MPs he could “think of no more important policy announcement than changes to regulations that restrict the freedom of the British people”, meaning it was all the more “concerning” that the press and public were being informed before legislators.

“What makes this matter more concerning is that about 30 minutes ago the media were given an embargoed copy of the statement,” he said during an appearance at the Commons. “So the media have the statement in advance, there will be a public press conference at 6pm and the last people to know about the changes to the Covid regulations will be members of Parliament.”

Mr Bone added it was “very disrespectful” and even suggested the move might be considered “a contempt of Parliament”.

This was followed by a senior figure in the Conservative Party, MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, querying if it would be possible for the government to provide a statement to Parliament at 6pm – before Mr Johnson goes live to the nation.

“If somebody’s willing to do that from Downing Street, I will always ensure that this House will hear it,” Sir Lindsay responded.

“My view is I was told no decisions have been taken. That’s why I’m more shocked to know there is an embargo [with the press], a list of what’s going to happen to this country, without this House knowing.”

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