Tory MP accuses government of deliberately delaying COVID Tier 4 news until MPs were 'safely away'

Ellen Manning
·2-min read
Broxbourne MP Sir Charles Walker raising a point of order in the Commons after witnessing an arrest in Westminster on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Sir Charles Walker accused ministers of waiting for MPs to be 'safely away' in their constituencies before making the controversial announcement about Tier 4 regulations. (Getty)

A senior Tory MP has accused ministers of deliberately delaying the announcement that they were “pulling the plug” on Christmas until after Parliament had broken up for the festive period.

Sir Charles Walker, vice chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said he thought the government had delayed the announcement until MPs were “safely away” back in their constituencies.

His comments come after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on Boris Johnson to apologise to the public for the way the latest coronavirus restrictions had been handled, accusing the prime minister of “gross negligence”.

On Saturday Johnson announced the introduction of Tier 4 restrictions for London and the South East, as well as changing the planned five-day relaxation of rules at Christmas – despite previously saying such a move would be “inhuman”.

Watch: Sir Keir Starmer accuses PM of ‘gross negligence’ in failing to act earlier

Walker told BBC Radio 4: “The government, in my view, knew on Thursday, possibly even Wednesday, that they were going to pull the plug on Christmas but they waited till Parliament had gone.

“That, on top of everything else, is a resigning matter. I am not asking for the government to collapse. I am asking for a secretary of state to take some responsibility.”

Read more: New COVID variant has already spread to other parts of the UK, expert warns

Earlier, health secretary Matt Hancock insisted ministers were only informed on Friday that an increase in infections in London and the South East was linked to a mutant new strain of coronavirus.

But Walker suggested the move was because the government was trying to avoid renewed parliamentary scrutiny.

He said: “I think many colleagues find that extremely egregious. The Christmas period was passed into law by the House of Commons in a vote after a debate.

“The view of most colleagues was that to be changed, another vote would be required in the House of Commons. So I suspect a decision was delayed until we were safely away back to our constituencies.”

Responding to the criticism, Hancock told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I know that Charles is very upset at the measures that we’ve had to bring in, and he has been [upset] throughout. I understand that and I understand where he’s coming from.”

The attack comes amid widespread anger at the late notice by the government on the change of plans for Christmas, which led to travel chaos and panic as people tried to react to Saturday’s announcement.

The government has said MPs will have a chance to vote on the latest measures when the Commons returns in January, and that the rules would be withdrawn if it is defeated.

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