The Evening Standard’s Sophia Sleigh says Alok Sharma used the “gotcha” line (see 10.01am) in three separate interviews this morning.
Tom Newton Dunn from Times Radio thinks it was scripted.
Alok Sharma, the business secretary, has suggested that it is wrong for journalists to ask ministers if they know they detail of lockdown restrictions. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning he said:
There is an element of slightly ‘gotcha’ about this in terms of this line of questioning. You are a flagship programme when it comes to serious news and it is not a quiz show.
Sharma was talking in the context of the PM’s failure to be able to explain the new lockdown restrictions imposed on the north-east of England in a Q&A yesterday. A few hours before Boris Johnson fluffed the question, an education minister, Gillian Keegan, failed to answer the same question on the Today programme.
As soon as Sharma made his “quiz show” jibe, the Today presenter Martha Kearney asked if he was seriously arguing that asking ministers to explain the coronavirus rules was as trivial as a quiz question. At that point Sharma backed down a bit, replying:
No, absolutely not. But what I’m saying to you is that what is important is if people want to understand the precise restrictions that they have in areas which are more restricted, then they should go on to the [local authority] websites.
Labour said Sharma was trying to excuse incompetence. Alex Norris, a shadow health minister, said:
The prime minister should understand the rules he is asking huge numbers of people to follow. That’s not a gotcha, that’s just basic government competence.
Temporary restrictions to services are to be put in place at the Royal Glamorgan hospital in Llantrisant, south Wales, after 82 cases of coronavirus were identified there, PA Media reports.
The restrictions, which come into force at 2pm today, include suspending planned surgery with the exception of a small number of urgent cancer cases that have been clinically prioritised.
There are currently 82 case of coronavirus identified at the hospital, which is in Rhondda Cynon Taf – one of the areas of Wales subjected to local lockdown restrictions.
Last week, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University health board said 34 cases of Covid-19 had been recorded across two wards at the Royal Glamorgan hospital, linked mainly to transmission within the site.
In a statement on Wednesday, the health board said that despite teams working to manage the outbreak, “additional cases linked to transmission within the hospital” had been confirmed in recent days.
In his Today interview Steve Baker gave a clue as to the possible basis of a deal between ministers and backbenchers over the Commons getting more say over Covid rules (see 9.23am) when he stressed three principles. He said:
I think there’s a common understanding between the government and ourselves on three things: that the government needs to retain the capacity for swift and effective action, that we shouldn’t be creating opportunities for vexatious opportunism from the opposition parties, and, thirdly, that we need prior approval of measures, major measures on a national scale, and indeed I think on a regional scale, which take away people’s liberties. That is the fundamental point of parliament – to legitimise, to authorise, restricting people’s freedom’s for the sake of the public interest. And at the moment MPs feel increasingly helpless as they find themselves unable to stand up for their constituents.
Yesterday Sir Bernard Jenkin, the chair of the Commons liaison committee, offered his own proposal for a possible compromise. In a letter to the PM he said:
Various proposals are being made that would require the approval by a vote of the House of Commons before or immediately after new restrictions come into force. The majority of us support this principle and expect that the government will also wish to accept it.
It is worth pointing out that the rebel Tories are not demanding that every single new coronavirus regulation has to be voted on by MPs before it comes into law. Here is the amendment tabled by Sir Graham Brady, saying the Coronavirus Act power should be renewed:
provided ministers ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that in the exercise of their powers to tackle the pandemic under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and other primary legislation, including for example Part 2A of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, parliament has an opportunity to debate and to vote upon any secondary legislation with effect in the whole of England or the whole United Kingdom before it comes into effect.
Good morning. Brexit was supposed to be about parliament “taking back control” but one of the extraordinary ironies of 2020 is that Britain’s departure from the European Union has coincided with the government implementing the most draconian restrictions on ordinary life seen in peacetime – mostly with MPs having no say over the process at all. The key lockdown measures have become law as regulations passed under emergency powers, Because of the way such secondary legislation is scrutinised, MPs have not had the chance to vote before the laws take effect, the few votes that have taken place have been retrospective (after the laws are already in place) and mostly the regulations have not been subject to votes or debates at all.
Now many MPs have had enough. There will be a debate tonight on extending the powers in the Coronavirus Act and many amendments have been tabled saying MPs should have a greater say. The most important has been tabled by Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, and it has got the support of dozens of Tories. It is likely that the amendments won’t be put to a vote for procedural reasons and ministers know that, if they don’t resolve this issue now, at some point soon the rebels will line up with the opposition to defeat them over this and so talks will take place this morning on a possible compromise.
In an interview on the Today programme this morning Steve Baker, the Tory former minister and a leading rebel on this issue, said that
What I’ve found by talking with colleagues on the backbenches, and indeed colleagues on the frontbenches, is people are extremely concerned about parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, the basis of our freedoms and our prosperity in the course of this crisis. And I do mean ministers – I’ve been amazed at the broad smiles that I’ve had from ministers in the course of this campaign … There is widespread concern in parliament across parties and throughout the Conservative party that we are not standing up for parliamentary democracy and the rule of law and really that is what today is about.
Baker said 247 pieces of delegated legislation had been introduced to implement coronavirus restrictions. He said it was not being properly scrutinised, and members of the public could not keep up with it. “The rule of law is based on ideas like certainty, predictability, clarity and stability and I think we’ve seen that they are going out of the window with this virus,” he said. He went on:
When you get such a large and shifting body of law, you find even ministers and the prime minister cannot keep up with it.
What possible hope can the public have? I had one minister say to me yesterday, with terror in his eyes about the disease, we might have to change the law every 24 hours.
We can’t possibly expect 70 million people to keep up with law that changes every 24 hours – this would be chaos and ruin.
We’ll hear a lot more on this as the day goes on. Here is the agenda.
9am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.
10.15am: Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, gives evidence to the work and pensions committee about coronavirus and benefits.
12pm: Johnson faces Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs.
12.15pm: The Scottish government is due to hold its daily coronavirus briefing.
12.30pm: Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, answers an urgent question on government support for professional and amateur sport.
2.30pm: Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, gives evidence to the Commons women and equalities committee about the impact of coronavirus on children’s education.
5pm: Johnson holds a press conference with Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, its chief scientific adviser.
Later, after 7pm, there will be the 90-minute debate on renewing the powers in the Coronavirus Act. The rebel amendment is not expected to be called, and it is possible that ministers and rebels may agree a compromise deal before the debate starts, but the debate will still give MPs a chance to speak out on this issue.
Politics Live has been doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog for some time and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and where they seem more important and interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.