We might have assumed that this week would be dominated by Brexit news, as Boris Johnson did set today – the European Council summit – as his deadline for getting a deal. But the Prime Minister has accepted that this self-imposed target will be missed, and has done so with little scrutiny because everyone is talking about coronavirus. Although Andy Burnham has pushed against Greater Manchester being put into the government’s new ‘Tier 3’ category of coronavirus alert level, Downing Street is now expected to do just that to the area along with Lancashire. (Meanwhile, London is expected to enter ‘Tier 2’.) The Labour mayor has warned that this would be “by imposition, not consent” and the region would consider taking legal action over the lack of financial support available to the low-paid and self-employed.
Before final talks with 10 Downing Street, set to be held this morning, again the news was briefed to the national media first and Sky News tweeted it last night. Local council leaders and MPs took to social media in protest – including Tory William Wragg. “They don’t even have lists of which MPs represent GM constituencies and keep leaving people out of briefings,” added Labour’s Barbara Keeley. It is an undeniable mess. Ministers keep claiming that the decisions for local restrictions are being made “jointly” with local representatives, but that clearly is not the case. Of course, the situation could be transformed by a well-functioning test and trace system, yet the Tories will not consider dropping Serco and handing power to local public health teams – as shown in the rejection of Labour’s motion yesterday.
Coming up in the House of Commons today is the government’s controversial covert human intelligence sources (criminal conduct) bill, which Labour will not be voting against at third reading, as revealed by LabourList on Monday. Trade unions and Labour MPs concerned about the bill are supportive of the party’s amendments, seeking to introduce safeguards in the legislation, but the proposed changes will be blocked by the Tories. Although the general secretaries of 14 trade unions have joined with a number of Labour MPs and campaigning organisations including both Momentum and soft left Open Labour to urge Keir Starmer to oppose the ‘spycops’ bill if it is unamended, the leadership is undeterred.
After more than just Socialist Campaign Group MPs expressed concerns at the Monday meeting about abstaining on the CHIS bill, the Labour leader arranged personal meetings to persuade them not to break the whip. We will know this afternoon whether this has ensured that the rebellion is kept at around 20 MPs only. Want to know more about the arguments on either side? Diane Abbott wrote for LabourList on why she plans to defy the whip this week, while shadow minister Conor McGinn has also written for LabourList to set out the reasons for the leadership’s decision. Both are worth reading. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.