Day-to-day governing has “ground to halt” while Boris Johnson’s new ministers focus their attention on the Tory leadership contest, opposition parties have warned.
Reams of planned legislation to tackle social problems have been put on ice pending the result of the race – while a string of cabinet ministers have ditched parliamentary scrutiny sessions to focus on other matters.
Even bids for the government’s “levelling-up” fund have been delayed following the sacking of the department’s top minister Michael Gove – a hold-up Labour blamed on Tory “chaos, distraction and self-indulgence”.
It comes as the country faces a mounting cost of living crisis, heavy strain on ambulance services and an extreme heatwave next week.
On Thursday, Dominic Raab became the latest cabinet minister to announce he would not attend a committee session to question him on the government’s planned British bill of rights.
MPs on the joint human rights committee said they were “deeply concerned” that the justice secretary would not be taking questions on “the most important piece of rights legislation this country has seen for nearly a quarter of a century”.
Earlier this week, home secretary Priti Patel pulled out of another scrutiny session where she was likely to be grilled on the government’s flagship Rwanda deportation policy, citing “recent changes in government”.
Ms Patel also left the father of a woman who was murdered in Exeter angry after she cancelled a long-planned meeting with him.
Tony Cox, whose daughter Lorraine, 32, went missing on a night out in August 2020, had been due to discuss “serious police failings” and “lack of government action generally to improve women’s safety” with the home secretary.
On Wednesday, health secretary Steve Barclay, who took up his role after his predecessor resigned last week, also skipped an urgent question in parliament about mounting pressures on the ambulance service.
Labour’s Wes Streeting branded the no-show a “disgrace”, adding: “This isn’t even a government in office, let alone in power.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said on Thursday that it was “simply appalling that we’ve heard more from ministers about the Conservative Party leadership contest than about a genuine national emergency”.
“We’ve not heard a peep out of the secretary of state for health on ambulance services, which are operating at the fringes of what is safe. It is time Conservative ministers put country over party, starting today,” she added.
Other ministers are also not ruling out cancelling appearances. Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is scheduled to appear at the environment audit committee next week to discuss progress in tackling the climate emergency. The Independent has contacted his department to ask whether he would be attending and was told that while he is still scheduled to attend, ministerial diaries “can change at the last minute”.
Labour also criticised the government on Thursday after it emerged that ministers’ flagship “levelling-up” fund has not yet been opened to bids – despite a pledge that it would be operating six weeks ago.
Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove was sacked by Boris Johnson as the prime minister sought to cling onto power last week. Councils have prepared bids for the second tranche of the levelling-up fund but have been unable to submit them because the timetable has slipped.
“While Tory leadership candidates parade around Westminster doing their best Margaret Thatcher impersonations, government has ground to a halt,” said Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow levelling-up secretary.
“For over a decade the Conservatives have stripped money from our communities. Now they expect those same communities to wait even longer for just a partial refund. If only they put the same effort into levelling up as they put into trying to advance their own careers.
“We can no longer afford the chaos, distraction and self-indulgence of this Conservative Party. We need a fresh start with a Labour government that will deliver, and that will match the ambition that we have for ourselves and our communities.”