United Kingdom

HENRY DEEDES watches MPs voting on whether to delay Freedom Day 

Frayed tempers, wobbling jowls, ruddy-cheeked fury. Tory MPs were absolutely steaming yesterday about the vote to delay Freedom Day by another four weeks.

Some grandees were so angry I swear that little wafts of smoke at times appeared to emanate from their flapping ears.

The vote passed of course but with a Tory rebellion of 49. That's 49 very cross backbenchers.

Boris has bought himself some time but judging by the mood in the chamber yesterday, should he miss next month's terminus date there'll be major trouble at t'mill.

Tory MPs were steaming yesterday about the vote to delay Freedom Day by another four weeks. Charged with laying out the Government's case was Matthew Hancock (pictured)

Things had begun rather slowly. Charged with laying out the Government's case was one Matthew Hancock.

Poor Hancock. Only hours before, Dominic Cummings' well-timed data dump showed that the Prime Minister regarded him as, well, rather hopeless.

As Hancock spoke, his Tory colleagues were up and down on their feet faster than carnival targets, chipping in with brusque interventions.

As soon as the Health Secretary sat down the mood began to crank up a notch.

Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest W) was incandescent. Fury grasped him by his stiffly starched collar. 

He shook, he waved his order paper around the way a prison warden might yield a truncheon. He accused the Government of taking liberties with our liberty.

Only hours before, Dominic Cummings' (pictured in 2019) well-timed data dump showed that the Prime Minister regarded Hancock as, well, rather hopeless

'I could understand it if we were a communist party', he bawled. There was a pop to at the prophets of doom at Sage.

'Now there's a misnomer if ever there is one!' Ah, Sage. That unelected posse of contradictory voices. 

Sir Charles Walker (Con, Broxbourne) fired a rocket up those preening Sage medics and scientists who go on television and undermine the Government.

Liam Fox (Con, N Somerset) agreed, suggesting if they want to be 'stars on Sky News' they shouldn't work for the Government. What price Professor Neil 'lockdown' Ferguson himself on next season's I'm a Celebrity?

After two hours the debate had now transformed into a pitched battle for the soul of the Conservative Party.

An irate Sir Robert Syms (Con, Poole) suggested ministers who'd agreed to the four-week extension 'need a damn good holiday'. And he did not mean that kindly.

Steve Baker (Con, Wycombe) accused them of 'transforming society for the worse'.

'If the Conservative Party does not stand for freedom under the rule of law, in my view, it stands for nothing, he declared.  

'We have got to have a turning point, we've got to recapture a spirit of freedom.' Baker resumed his seat looking like he was chewing on a hornet.

Ruby-nosed Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough) decreed the Government's behaviour as a 'mortal threat' to the future of the Conservatives.

'There's been too much shifting of goal posts,' blustered Sir Edward. 'There's a real danger the public will increasingly ignore this. The Government will be a government of the emperor without clothes.'

As Hancock (pictured) spoke, his Tory colleagues were up and down on their feet faster than carnival targets, chipping in with brusque interventions

The temperature inside an already clammy Commons rocketed still further as crosser and crosser those Tory rebels became.

Little Tim Loughton (Con, E Worthing) stood and announced angrily: 'I'm done'. He accused ministers of 'cruelly whipping away' Freedom Day on June 21 just as it had become so tantalisingly close.

'I'm done with making excuses to my constituents for when their lives might just get back to some degree of normality,' he continued. Loughton, I should point out is usually of the Tory benches' politest souls.

A snorting speech followed from Richard Drax (Con, South Dorset) who asked: 'What on earth is happening to our country? Muzzled, acquiescent and fearful.

'Personally, I'm not surprised the nation has been beaten into submission when day after day, hour after hour, we're deluged with dire warnings of doom and gloom by government advisers of one kind or another.'

The Government may have won this vote comfortably, but when so many normally genteel members are speaking about them like this, they really do need to take a long hard look at themselves.

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