Conservative MPs have lambasted the government’s handling of a month-long delay to the end of lockdown restrictions in England.
Ministers were accused of an “unjust” and “unconscionable” decision not to offer any extra financial support to businesses alongside an announcement that so-called ‘freedom day’ would no longer take place on 21 June.
A number of Conservative backbenchers, including former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, also criticised the decision to brief the media before MPs on the decision to pause a further easing of restrictions because of fears over the new Delta variant.
Opposition MPs, meanwhile, accused the government of failing to crack down on the strain of the virus, first identified in India, soon enough.
Tensions boiled over as the health secretary Matt Hancock updated the House of Commons, hours after the prime minister gave a press conference.
Tory MP Steve Baker warned Mr Hancock that “alarming numbers of people… believe they are never going to see true freedom again”.
His fellow backbencher Sir Robert Neill warned the minister that even just a few weeks would mean the “the difference between survival and closure for some businesses”.
Announcing the delay and forcing some businesses to remain closed without additional financial support was “unjust, unconscionable and unsupportable,” he said.
Mr Hunt said he agreed with the Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle that it was wrong that parliament heard the news after the media, and said it should have been the prime minister, not Mr Hancock, who made the announcement to the House.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the prime minister’s "complacency" had allowed the Delta variant to spread, for the sake of a “photo call with Prime Minister Modi" on a trip to India
He told Mr Hancock: "Our constituents did what was asked of them, they queued up for vaccination... and yet now we’re in the grip of a Delta wave spreading with speed and our constituents face further restrictions.
"The Prime Minister’s complacency allowed this variant to reach our shores. On March 25 there were warnings of a new variant in India, it is reported that ministers first learnt the Delta variant was in the UK on April 1, the Government red-listed Pakistan and Bangladesh on April 9 but didn’t red-list India until April 23, by which point 20,000 people had arrived from India.
"Our borders were secure as a sieve and all because the Prime Minister wanted a photo call with Prime Minister Modi. “It’s astonishing that these ministers promised to take control of our borders, and conspicuously failed to control our borders at the very moment it mattered most."
In response to similar charges from other MPs, the health secretary insisted he had acted swiftly against the threat posed by the Delta variant and accused opposition politicians of believing he should have had information about events before they had happened.