Boris Johnson may have avoided a high-profile coronavirus defeat by his own MPs last week, but rebellion has not gone away.
The consequence is the Commons is starting to exert newfound influence over his plans, and the first casualty may well be the 10pm pub and restaurant curfew.
The prime minister is in trouble because Keir Starmer has switched tactics on coronavirus.
Until now, he has supported all Downing Street’s restrictions in England. No longer.
At today’s PMQs, the Labour leader signalled that Labour’s support for measures would not be automatic. He went on to question whether there was a scientific basis for the 10pm curfew, something many Tories want to know too.
Although Labour hasn’t formally announced it’s voting against the 10pm curfew when it comes to the Commons on Monday, all the signs point to this.
This is important since a parliamentary defeat for Mr Johnson has become a mathematical possibility if enough Tory MPs now join in.
This would be a massive Commons moment: a signal that MPs do not have confidence in Mr Johnson’s coronavirus policies and an extremely serious blow to Mr Johnson’s authority.
The 10pm curfew is a curious policy, which many in the Tories dislike. It was blamed specifically today by Greene King which announced it will shut dozens of pubs with the loss of 800 jobs.
Liz Truss, the trade secretary, justified the move on the grounds that people were more likely to be drunk and struggle to socially distance after 10pm.
Many Tory MPs believe it to be a compromise with Rishi Sunak who resisted more draconian shutdown measures across the hospitality sector. Its rationale, they think, is that government needed to be seen to do something small.
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Unhelpfully for Number 10, Tory MP Steve Baker – one of the most talented parliamentary organisers – has signalled his opposition to the 10pm curfew, suggesting today it is counterproductive.
A lot will hinge on whether the SNP – who have a similar 10pm curfew policy in Scotland – can find a way of joining the rebellion against the English equivalent.
So defeat is not a foregone conclusion, but how this rebellion develops in the coming days will be closely watched in Number 10.
Downing Street insists the vote is going ahead as it stands. But the first rumours – courtesy of the Evening Standard – have emerged that Number 10 is considering a whole rethink of the policy anyway.
Make no mistake, if this happens it will have been a consequence of the Commons starting to take back control of coronavirus policy.
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