PM Johnson scolded for ‘contempt’ of parliament over COVID-19 rules


LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reprimanded on Wednesday by the speaker of parliament for treating lawmakers with contempt by rushing through far-reaching COVID-19 restrictions without proper scrutiny.

In a rare intervention by the chief officer of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle scolded Johnson ahead of his weekly question-and-answer session for making rules in a “totally unsatisfactory” way.

Johnson, who is due to hold a news conference with the government’s chief scientists at 5 p.m. (1600 GMT), is grappling with a swiftly spreading second wave of the coronavirus outbreak and growing anger over restrictions imposed on citizens.

“The way in which the government has exercised its powers to make secondary legislation during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory,” Hoyle told parliament.

Hoyle, who as speaker runs debates and is the highest authority of the House of Commons, added that he hoped the government would no longer “treat it with the contempt that it has shown”.

Britain, which has the worst official death toll in Europe, reported 7,143 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest single figure to date.

Swathes of the United Kingdom and millions of citizens are subject to local restrictions brought in to try to slow the second wave of COVID-19 infections. Britain has reported more than 42,072 deaths from the virus – the world’s fifth highest total.

Johnson, who has had to apologise after getting muddled over local lockdown rules, is facing growing anger within his own Conservative Party over the most severe restrictions in peacetime history that are destroying swathes of the economy.

UK Commons Speaker accuses government of bypassing lawmakers on virus measures
Several Conservative lawmakers have threatened to rebel against the government on Wednesday over renewing the Coronavirus Act.

A rebellion would dent Johnson’s authority and ministers have been trying to defuse any revolt by promising parliament they would involve it more.

But the speaker said he would not allow parliament to vote on an amendment by senior Conservative Graham Brady which could have forced the government to get parliamentary approval before any further national restrictions were imposed.

“We need prior approval of measures, major measures on a national scale and indeed a regional scale which take away people’s liberties,” said Steve Baker, one prominent rebel lawmaker in the party, told the BBC.

As Johnson grapples with both COVID-19 and dissent in party ranks, the economic damage was laid bare. The United Kingdom’s economy shrank by a record 19.8% in the second quarter of 2020 – more than any other major advanced economy.

“We will do everything we can to save every job,” Johnson told parliament.