Boris Johnson battles backbenchers over inclusion of children in ‘rule of six’

11 September 2020, 22:14 | Updated: 12 September 2020, 10:11

Boris Johnson is battling a growing number of Tory backbenchers who oppose the inclusion of children in the Government’s new “rule of six”
Boris Johnson is battling a growing number of Tory backbenchers who oppose the inclusion of children in the Government’s new “rule of six”. Picture: Getty / PA

By Megan White

Boris Johnson is battling a growing number of Tory backbenchers who oppose the inclusion of children in the Government’s new “rule of six” for social gatherings.

At least 40 Conservative MPs are said to be unhappy with the new measures, with children being counted in that number proving an issue for many.

From Monday, gatherings of more than six people will be illegal in England due to concerns around the number of daily positive Covid-19 cases in the UK rising to almost 3,000.

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Currently, the lawful limit on gatherings is 30 people.

In Wales, young children will be exempt from the rule of six and groups of up to 30 people can continue to meet outdoors.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told the Daily Telegraph: “Kids should not be counted below a certain age.

“I would prefer the rule to apply to six adults. We know how this virus is being spread, and it's by young people going out and partying in large groups, so target them instead.”

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, said: "If this rule had been debated by parliament it would have been an opportunity to highlight some of the obvious errors, such as the failure to exclude children.”

MP Steve Baker called on the government to scrap the laws around social gatherings rather than tightening them, telling LBC’s Nick Ferrari that the Government should “trust the British people to do the right thing.”

Asked how much dissent he was aware of over the rule of six, Mr Baker said: "Well I'm afraid a lot, I have not yet rung round.

"I have had tremendous feedback this morning from another interview, from colleagues who all want to join me in protesting. I have lists of colleagues, as I so often do, and it's remarkable when you go through."

"I stopped counting when I got over the magic 40. They're not people, let’s be clear, who are saying yes I'll vote against yet, they're people I know I need to call.

"The point I’m making is when I sat down yesterday and went through and thought: ‘Who do I need to speak to? Who is likely to be on my side of the argument?’ I think overwhelmingly the Conservative backbenches will be on my side of the argument.

"I am also advised that the cabinet has a great degree of agreement with the position I'm taking."

He added: “I think it is time for us to move to a voluntary system, without enforcement powers, to trust the British people to do the right thing.”

“I think clearly people do want to do the right things and in the new environment we face we should be moving forwards on a voluntary basis unless the government can prove otherwise.”

He continued: "Boris now needs, I think, to take stock, to look at the data and to really ask whether this is a legal environment consistent with life as a free people. The constant change.

"You know we're telling children go to school, but you can't go to a party afterwards.

"We're telling the public to go and eat out to help out, but not in groups of more than six. It's madness. You can go to work in any numbers but you can't go to the pub afterwards. This is just not a fit way for a free people to live."

First Minister Mark Drakeford said it was “not proportionate” to include young children in that number as they “do not pass on the virus to others in the way that adults do.”

Explaining the measures, Mr Drakeford told LBC News: “Four households in Wales are able to form an exclusive extended household, so it’ll be any six people from that extended household who will be able to meet indoors.

“Young children are excluded from that – the evidence we have is that young children do not pass on the virus to others in the way that adults do, nor do they suffer from the virus in the way that older people do.

“It’s not proportionate, we think, to prevent those children from meeting with other family members indoors, so the six is for people who are aged 11 and over.”

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When asked if it “flew in the face of what was happening in England,” Mr Drakeford added: “It is different, but we have our own powers and our own context, as well.

“In large parts of Wales, coronavirus remains very effectively suppressed.

“We have some local flare ups, and that is driving the number across Wales up, but we don’t face the same level of difficulty that is being experienced across our border, nor are things getting more difficult at the pace they are getting more difficult across our border.

“So we try and act proportionately, we try and take the measures that are right for Wales, and where we don’t need to take freedoms away from people, we don’t think it is proportionate to do so.”