Boris Johnson was given a roasting by furious Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, over Number 10’s decision to announce the delay of Covid unlocking on TV instead of in Parliament.
The Prime Minister used a Downing Street briefing to announce most of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions will remain in place until July 19 – a four-week delay from the intended date of June 21.
Noting that the Ministerial Code requires important announcements to be made in the House of Commons first, and that the PM is in charge of policing the code, Sir Lindsay said: “He must now lead from the top and follow the guidance in it. This house can be assured that I will be pursuing this matter with him.
“I do not find it acceptable at all that members of all this house are elected to come here and serve their constituents, not to serve them via Sky or BBC. The question should be made here, the PM should be here.”
Sir Lindsay went on: “I’m sorry that his dinner would have been affected. Because I was told that he was in Brussels – I think the nearest Brussels tonight was the sprouts at the dinner that was being served.”
He ended his excoriation with a warning to Mr Johnson: “But I say now, Prime Minister. You are on my watch, and I want you treat this House correctly.”
Later, Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt urged the Prime Minister to be “cautious” with his choice of words.
He said: “Could I suggest to [Hancock] that one of the reasons for the disappointment many people feel is the use of words like irreversible.
“Tonight Sir Patrick Vallance said we will be living with Covid for the rest of our lives.
“If there is a vaccine-busting variant that threatens another 100,000 lives, these measures will not be irreversible and we have a duty to be completely honest with people about the bumpiness of the road ahead.”
Earlier, Sir Lindsay accused Downing Street of “running roughshod” over MPs by not informing them first of any changes.
Speaking in the Commons on Monday afternoon, Sir Lindsay said: “Can I just say, we weren’t going to get a statement until I got involved with Downing Street. The fact is this has been forced to actually get a statement today, it was going to be left to tomorrow, which would have been totally unacceptable.
“The fact is – I understand the Prime Minister at the moment is on Nato, there is a big conference going on, he isn’t here – that’s why I insisted that somebody came to make this statement. The timing of it is 8.30pm. I thought that was better than waiting for the Prime Minister to make a statement tomorrow.”
He added: “This House needs to know, it needs to know first. I find it totally unacceptable that once again, once again, that we see Downing Street running roughshod over members of Parliament. We’re not accepting it and I’m at the stage where I’m beginning to look for other avenues if they’re not going to treat this House seriously.
“But I will say I think it’s time for me to have a meeting with the Prime Minister to actually put on the record here now but with him that this House matters.”
He was responding to points of order from two senior Conservative MPs, Peter Bone and Sir Edward Leigh, who both voiced their unhappiness with the handling of the announcement.
Mr Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, said to MPs: “It’s a long-standing principle of this House that major changes to Government policy are announced to Parliament first.
“I can think of no more important policy announcement than changes to regulations that restrict the freedom of the British people.”
He went on: “What makes this matter more concerning is that about 30 minutes ago the media were given an embargoed copy of the statement.
“So the media have the statement in advance, there will be a public press conference at 6pm and the last people to know about the changes to the Covid regulations will be members of Parliament.
“This is clearly very disrespectful to Parliament and probably a contempt of Parliament.”