Good morning. MPs will vote on the new coronavirus restrictions for England at 7pm. With all the main opposition parties abstaining, there is no realistic chance of Boris Johnson losing; there are currently 364 Conservative MPs, and so around 183 would have to vote against the government for it to lose. But in some respects that will make it easier for the many Tories who are unhappy about the new system – and particularly having their constituencies placed in tier 3 or tier 2 – to register their disapproval.
If they do, does it matter? In the short term, no; the 70-page set of regulations published yesterday explaining the new rules for England will almost certainly come into force tomorrow, regardless of what happens in the chamber this afternoon. But in the long run this afternoon’s debate may well influence government coronavirus policy over the next few months.
During the first wave of the pandemic, ministers were able to impose draconian lockdown rules with virtually no parliamentary opposition or even scrutiny. This time it’s different; the opposition and backbench MPs are more critical, 34 Tories opposed the lockdown in the vote at the start of November and it is likely that more will defy the whip today. The rebels don’t need to get much above 40 before they reach the point where, theoretically, they could defeat the government in alliance with the opposition. That’s why today’s debate might prove meaningful; it may constrain ministers’ options going ahead.
One advantage that No 10 has is that the Tory rebels and Labour disagree on much; broadly, Labour wants restrictions to be tighter, while the Tory rebels want them to be looser. But they are agreed on the need for more support for businesses in their constituencies. And they are united in wanting the Commons to have more say over what happens next.
This morning the government’s attempt to win over backbenchers minded to vote against suffered a fresh blow when the Times claimed in its splash (paywall) that Whitehall has produced “a secret dossier detailing the impact of coronavirus on the economy, with a dozen sectors rated ‘red’ and facing significant job cuts and revenue losses”. The Times says the secret document undermines the claim in the impact assessment published yesterday that it is not possible to know what effect the new restrictions will have on businesses. Even before the Times story was published, the release of the impact assessment had backfired because Tory MP judged it worthless.
This morning, in an interview on the Today programme, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, sought to downplay the damage caused by the story. He said he had not seen the dossier referred to by the Times, a “Covid-19 sectoral impacts dashboard”, and he went on:
The evidence that I understand is in that dashboard is broadly from the ONS and other publicly available statistical databases, and also reports from business representative organisations … The information that it contains is based on information which is publicly available.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.
9.30am: The ONS publishes its weekly death figures for England and Wales.
9.30am: Public Health England, the ONS and others give evidence to the joint health/science committee inquiry into lessons to be learnt from coronavirus.
9.30am: Richard Hughes, chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, gives evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about the spending review.
11.30am: Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, takes questions in the Commons.
12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.
12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is expected to hold a coronavirus briefing.
Around 12.45pm: Boris Johnson is due to open the Commons debate on the new coronavirus restrictions for England.
2.30pm: Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, gives evidence to the Commons justice committee.
7pm: MPs vote on the new coronavirus restrictions for England.
Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog 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 when they seem more important or more 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.