PM faces rebellion from 70 Tory MPs over Covid Plan B measures

14 December 2021, 08:13 | Updated: 14 December 2021, 17:35

The PM is triggering Plan B measures in a bid to tackle rising cases of the Omicron variant
The PM is triggering Plan B measures in a bid to tackle rising cases of the Omicron variant. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Boris Johnson is today facing the largest rebellion of his premiership, with about 70 Tory MPs set to vote against the latest Covid restrictions.

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The Prime Minister, who is already facing fury over alleged Covid rule breaking in No10 last Christmas, is triggering Plan B measures in England in a bid to tackle spiralling cases of the Omicron variant.

More than 70 backbenchers are threatening to defy the whips and oppose the Government on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Huge demand for Covid boosters as all adults in England become eligible

ANALYSIS: Tory rebellion over Covid restrictions is political gold-dust for Labour

It is reported that up to 10 ministerial aides could resign to oppose the controls, with up to four votes on the measures expected to take place this evening.

Covid passes - proof of full vaccination or a recent negative test for access to large venues like nightclubs - are said to be of particular concern, as is the impact of working from home on the economy of town and city centres.

Tory MPs who are opposed include Sir Graham Brady, Steve Baker, David Davis, Tobias Elwood and Ester McVey - however, with the support of the Labour Party, MPs are still likely to pass the measures.

But the scale of the threatened revolt underlines how difficult Mr Johnson's position has become.

It could become even more precarious if the Conservatives are defeated in the North Shropshire by-election on Thursday, where the Liberal Democrats are hoping to overturn a Tory majority of almost 23,000 from the last general election.

The Prime Minister faced a wave of public anger after reports that a series of parties were held in Downing Street in the run-up to Christmas last year at a time when such gatherings were largely banned.

The country's top civil servant, the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, is currently carrying out an investigation into whether the rules were broken - something Mr Johnson has repeatedly denied.

Within the Conservative Party, it has only served to compound the deep frustration among a large section of backbenchers at the return of new Covid controls.

Mr Johnson has insisted the measures represent a "balanced and proportionate" response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

In the Commons on Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the UK Health Security Agency estimated there were 200,000 infections a day, with the new strain accounting for 20% of cases in England and set to become dominant in London.

The health service in England declared a "Level 4 National Incident", which means the NHS centrally will now lead the response to the virus rather than local trusts setting their own course.

It will enable vaccine clinics to operate around the clock while hospital trusts will be able to discharge some patients to hotels.

Some scientists have warned that further measures will be required in the coming weeks if the service is not to be overwhelmed by a tidal wave of hospital admissions.

However, the anticipated Tory revolt - expected to exceed the previous record of 55 under Mr Johnson's leadership - could badly damage his political authority if more action is needed.

For now, the Prime Minister is hoping a ramped up booster jab campaign - significantly increasing the protection the vaccines provide against Omicron - will be enough to help the NHS through the winter.

He has issued an appeal for "tens of thousands" of volunteer stewards and vaccinators to step forward to help get the offer of a top-up jab to every eligible adult in England by the end of the month.

"We need to increase our jabbing capacity to unprecedented levels," he said.

Sir Keir Starmer confirmed Labour would support the Government in today's Commons vote, saying it was their "patriotic duty" to back the additional restrictions.

From Wednesday, NHS Covid passes will be required for entry to indoor venues containing more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

Mr Javid said once all adults have had the chance to get a booster, people will need to have had the third dose if they are to be exempt from the requirement to show a negative test.

Anyone faking a pass could be hit with a £10,000 fine while councils will have the power to shut down businesses if they fail to comply with the rules.