HENRY DEEDES sees a vapour trail of anarchy hanging over Westminster


The morning after Boris Johnson announced he was clawing back another raft of civil liberties, a vapour trail of anarchy hung over Westminster.

In Parliament Square, where Extinction Rebellion has been camped out for the past ten days, female protesters removed their brassieres and chained themselves to the New Palace Yard railings. 

Those of a less flaunty disposition preferred to lay down in the middle of the street and play dead.

Over the Thames, a police helicopter hovered menacingly, adding to the mild air of dystopia. 

Inside the Commons, similarly disruptive scenes were playing out over the Government’s latest Covid-19 strategy. 

Volunteer for the firing squad: Matt Hancock gives his statement in the Commons on Thursday. The law in England will change from next week to reduce the number of people who can gather socially from 30 to six, with some exemptions 

And in the midst of it all stood Matt Hancock, who, for the second time this week, had volunteered himself for the firing squad by issuing a statement. 

The Health Secretary arrived in the chamber with the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. 

As the pair shuffled along side by side, an awkward silence lingered between them. 

They reminded me of two embittered footballer managers darting for the tunnel, desperate to avoid any post-match pleasantries.

The reason for this tension was Hancock’s failure to announce the new ‘rule of six’ plans – a ban on gatherings indoors or out of more than six people – to Parliament before the nation was informed. 

Sir Lindsay gave Hancock the most almighty rollicking about it on Wednesday. 

I’m yet to work out who the new Speaker’s favourites are but I’m fairly sure Mr Hancock is not among them.

The reason for this tension was Hancock’s failure to announce the new ‘rule of six’ plans – a ban on gatherings indoors or out of more than six people – to Parliament before the nation was informed

The reason for this tension was Hancock’s failure to announce the new ‘rule of six’ plans – a ban on gatherings indoors or out of more than six people – to Parliament before the nation was informed

Hancock responded yesterday with a watery apology. He promised to come to the House as much as possible in future, but pleaded for leniency during these fast- moving times. 

Not quite the grovelling mea culpa some were hoping for, but enough to leave his opposite number Jon Ashworth with a wolfish grin on his face.

Turned out Ashworth supported Hancock’s new lockdown measures. 

But of the Government’s aspiration to test ten million people a day – so-called ‘Operation Moonshot’ – he was more dismissive.

Ashworth reckoned it had the bearings of another failed project. Opposition MPs joined the carping. Martyn Day (SNP, Linlithgow & E Falkirk) thought the plan was undeliverable. 

Each time Moonshot - the Government’s aspiration to test ten million people a day - was raised, the Labour benches would break into an unseemly symphony of sneers and snide chuckles. To give Hancock (pictured) his due, he stood firm against the naysayers

Each time Moonshot – the Government’s aspiration to test ten million people a day – was raised, the Labour benches would break into an unseemly symphony of sneers and snide chuckles. To give Hancock (pictured) his due, he stood firm against the naysayers

Each time Moonshot was raised, the Labour benches would break into an unseemly symphony of sneers and snide chuckles. It was as though they were willing it to fail.

To give Hancock his due, he stood firm against the naysayers. 

Lesser figures (such as that wimp of an Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson) would have buckled in the face of such derision. 

Instead, Hancock puffed out his little pigeon chest and declared he’d proved them all wrong before, and would do so again.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt congratulated his successor on his ambitious testing plans. 

Hunt’s a slippery fellow. It wasn’t clear whether he was being genuine or agreed with the opposition that it wasn’t possible. 

By pointing out what a ‘huge target’ it would be to test ten million people, it rather suggested the latter. 

Indeed, the frustration frothing on the Government’s own benches was all too evident.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt congratulated his successor on his ambitious testing plans. Hunt’s a slippery fellow. It wasn’t clear whether he was being genuine or agreed with the opposition that it wasn’t possible. By pointing out what a ‘huge target’ it would be to test ten million people, it rather suggested the latter

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt congratulated his successor on his ambitious testing plans. Hunt’s a slippery fellow. It wasn’t clear whether he was being genuine or agreed with the opposition that it wasn’t possible. By pointing out what a ‘huge target’ it would be to test ten million people, it rather suggested the latter

One of the more withering remarks came from former business secretary Greg Clark who castigated the Government over the number of people being told to travel hundreds of miles for a Covid test. He advised Hancock to ‘get a grip’.

Strange. As a minister, dry-as-dust Greg barely said boo to a goose. Since being relegated to the backbenches, he’s turned into a pit bull. 

Tory bigwig and chairman of the all-powerful 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, wasn’t happy either. 

He asked why a debate hadn’t been held on the new restrictions. Hancock weakly replied that in pandemics ‘we do have to move fast’.

Well-upholstered Sir Graham was not satisfied, corrugating his brow before brusquely exiting the chamber.

He missed Bambos Charalambous (Lab, Enfield Southgate) and James Murray (Labour, Ealing N) raising concerns about the army of so-called Covid marshals Boris plans to introduce to make sure we’re all obeying the new rules.

Who would want such a job? Bossy, interfering busybodies, presumably. Actually, I could quite see Hancock as one. 

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