Boris Johnson is under pressure from Conservative MPs over the new “rule of six” coronavirus restrictions – with senior Tories calling for children to not be included in tallies.
From Monday, gatherings of more than six people will be banned in England after the number of daily positive COVID-19 cases in the UK reached almost 3,000.
However, Tory MPs have expressed concerns about the implementation of the new restrictions – and asked why the “draconian” measures are being introduced without being voted on.
The anger has opened up a fresh rift between the prime minister and his party, with Mr Johnson due to address Tory MPs on Zoom later on Friday amid disquiet over his plans to override the Brexit withdrawal deal.
But Downing Street downplayed reports the new measures were also the subject of a cabinet split, following claims that Health Secretary Matt Hancock was the only cabinet minister on the coronavirus strategy committee to support the “rule of six”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The decision that was made was agreed between the government, in this case the cabinet committee which is responsible for strategy on the coronavirus response, the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser.”
Commenting on the new “rule of six” measures, New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne told Sky News: “I just think that in a democracy it is absurd that huge interference in our private lives can be made without consultation in parliament, without a vote, without even a debate.”
His remarks echoed those of Sir Christopher Chope, the Christchurch MP, who earlier on Friday raised a point of order in the House of Commons to note the government has yet to lay the new COVID-19 regulations before parliament.
“I’m very concerned about the lack of opportunity for people, the public first of all, to see the text of these new regulations and I’m also concerned about the continuing reluctance of the government to give any opportunities to members to debate this,” he said.
“What we are talking about is the most draconian introduction of new restrictions on our liberty with criminal sanctions and we need to be made aware of what’s happening and given the opportunity of debating it.”
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle responded that “the country should also know what’s going on”.
He told Sir Christopher: “Can I say I share your disappointment as well.
“I think we should all be informed and the country should also know what’s going on.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was reprimanded earlier this week for a “total disregard” of parliament after the government failed to first announce the new coronavirus restrictions in the Commons.
The new “rule of six” restriction applies to gatherings both indoors and outdoors in England and Scotland, and indoors in Wales.
However, in Wales and Scotland, the measure does not apply to children under the age of 12 but it applies to all ages in England.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith called for children not to be counted in England.
“Kids should not be counted below a certain age,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“I would prefer the rule to apply to six adults. We know how this virus is being spread, and it’s by young people going out and partying in large groups, so target them instead.”
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, said: “If this rule had been debated by parliament it would have been an opportunity to highlight some of the obvious errors, such as the failure to exclude children.”
Downing Street on Friday suggested it would not review the decision to include children in the six-person limit on social gatherings in England.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “We looked at all of the evidence in advance of the decision that was reached on Wednesday and it was decided to proceed with a rule of six that applies to all ages.
“What we have done is ensure that the rules have been simplified and strengthened so they are easier to understand.
“Social distancing measures can only be effective if the public understand them and abide by them.”
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