The new Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has told Sky News his MPs are poised to vote against new COVID-19 laws, as he accused Boris Johnson of “ruling by diktat”.
“I have become alarmed at the Coronavirus Act,” said Sir Ed. “At first, we voted for it, but we had concerns. I have become increasingly concerned. Asking to renew it is unreasonable.
“I have written to the prime minister about some of the powers on the care of disabled people and people with mental illness. I want to argue that he takes out the parts that reduce the rights of people. At the moment we can’t support the renewal.”
Confirming that his MPs will vote for an amendment tabled by Tory grandee Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee, demanding Commons votes before any future coronavirus curbs, Sir Ed said: “MPs should have a right to debate.
“People want to know Parliament is active and can control the executive. Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings seem to be ruling the country by diktat and that’s not acceptable.
“We will support the Brady amendment and the need for more scrutiny. But this amendment doesn’t go far enough, particularly on taking away the care rights of disabled people, which breaches international law.
“We’ll put down our own amendment. Interestingly many of the laws being used aren’t in the Coronavirus Act or other pieces of legislation.
“We must debate which laws are needed, but I don’t think it helps if we have a law that contains things that are wrong and unlawful and breaks Britain’s international obligations. I think that’s wrong.”
Asked about the threat of a London lockdown, despite his concerns about further COVID restrictions the Kingston and Surbiton MP said: “I am deeply worried about that. But if that’s the only way we can stop the spread then we’ll have to do it.”
But he added: “We have to help people and businesses far more than the government is doing, if we go down that road. The government isn’t helping people enough.”
He also said the House of Commons may have to return to a so-called “hybrid parliament”, with fewer MPs in the chamber. “Parliament must show leadership and act in a COVID-secure way and keep our constituents safe.
“We are taking the treat of this pandemic seriously. If that means we have to go back to a hybrid parliament then we’ll have to do that.”
In his Sky News interview, Sir Ed also revealed how difficult it was to make such a deeply personal and emotional conference speech, in which he spoke about his father’s death when he was four and caring for his mother, who died when he was 15, and his 12-year-old son John, who has a neurological condition.
“Having just become leader, it’s important people know who I am,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy speech. But if you want to know who I am, losing your parents at a young age, looking after your disabled child, that shapes who you are.
“We have to look after our sons. Having these duties is who I am. Having seen how many people struggle with those responsibilities, juggling work or not having enough money, I can’t stand by. I want to be their voice.
“There are millions of carers out there. I want the Liberal Democrats to be their voice.”
Asked to define his ambition as party leader, given that the Lib Dems currently stand at only around 5% in opinion polls, Sir Ed said: “I want to rebuild the Lib Dems, reconnect them with British people. It has been a tough five years for us.
“People feel we’re not on their side. I want people to know we want to help them and their families. I want them to know we share their concerns and we want to help them. I want to make sure we’re relevant to the lives of people.”
Asked about a vote at the party’s conference this week to push for renewed membership of the EU as a “longer term objective”, Sir Ed said: “At the moment we are focused on preventing a no deal Brexit or a hard Brexit, just when we’re looking at possibly the worst recession in 300 years.
“People tell me they’re concerned about their jobs, livelihood and a no deal or a hard Brexit will make people’s lives even worse.
“We need to focus on what’s in front of us. I’m going to focus on concerns of British people now. That’s my job. That’s what I’ll do.”