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Covid passes approved by Parliament as Boris Johnson suffers huge Tory revolt

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 15/12/2021 Matt Watts and Robert Dex
Boris Johnson © AP Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has suffered the largest rebellion since he became Prime Minister as nearly 100 Tory MPs voted against Plan B measures which would usher in the mandatory use of Covid passes.

The Plan B measures passed the Commons thanks to the support of Labour, but the PM’s attempts to quell a rebellion on his own backbenches failed as a large number of his MPs defied the whip to vote against him on the issue of the passes - also known as vaccine passports.

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The rebellion was such that Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the influential 1922 Committee said a leadership challenge next year had “got to be on the cards” if the PM did not change his approach.

Other measures under the Government's Plan B also cleared the Commons, including to drop the requirement to isolate and instead do daily Covid tests for those fully vaccinated people who are contacts of a positive Covid case.

MPs also approved mandatory vaccinations for NHS and social care staff by April 2022 and the requirement to wear face coverings to more indoor spaces in England - including museums and galleries.

While some Tories voted against other measures, the vote on Covid passes saw the biggest rebellion and will be seen as a crushing blow to Mr Johnson’s authority after a challenging week for the PM.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said that Mr Johnson’s authority was “shattered”.

He told Sky News: “That is an extraordinary, extraordinary rebellion. The Government has lost its majority. I think the size of that vote is a reflection of the shattered authority of Boris Johnson.


Video: Boris Johnson’s Covid plan B measures approved by Commons – despite major rebellion from Tory MPs (The Independent)

“He is undermining public health at a critical moment for our country. I think he has got to ask himself if he is the right man to lead our country through the next phase of the pandemic.”

Earlier, Mr Johnson had addressed the 1922 Committee to try and convince them to back his plans.

And he had been individually speaking to those who had publicly said they would oppose the measure earlier in the day.

Some seemed convinced after the meeting, but in the end 126 MPs voted against the use of the passes at nightclubs and large venues.

There was some confusion about the final figures with some rebels saying there were than 100 in their ranks but at least 96 Conservative MPs voted against the Covid pass regulations for England. Two Tory MPs also acted as tellers for the noes. 369 MPs backed the move, giving a majority of 243.

Sir Geoffrey said he was “very surprised” by the size of the rebellion, adding it “shows quite a major division within the party”.

He said the PM had to realise he must consult MPs before bringing measures to the Commons, and that some members of the party would now be thinking it was time for a change.

He said: “I think now the Prime Minister’s really got to think very carefully about how he’s going to reset his performance, to actually govern with a united party because we will know what happens to disunited parties.”

He added: “He’s got to realise that he’s got to consult his party properly before bringing these sorts of measures to the Commons.”

Asked whether there was now the prospect of a leadership challenge in the new year if the PM did not change his approach, Sir Geoffrey said: “I think that’s got to be on the cards. He’s got to realise that he’s got to change.”

Before Tuesday, the biggest rebellion Mr Johnson had faced was in December 2020, against the strengthening of Covid-19 tier restrictions in England.

Then, a total of 55 Conservative MPs voted against the Government. This includes the two MPs who acted as tellers for the noes.

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