MPs approve mandatory Covid passes despite huge Tory rebellion of nearly 100

14 December 2021, 19:03 | Updated: 15 December 2021, 09:17

Boris Johnson has suffered a sizeable Tory rebellion against Covid pass plans
Boris Johnson has suffered a sizeable Tory rebellion against Covid pass plans. Picture: Alamy/ParliamentTV

By Will Taylor

MPs have approved new Plan B measures to fight the Omicron variant, despite a huge Tory rebellion.

The Commons backed the expansion of where face masks need to be worn indoors, and the mandatory use of a Covid pass showing vaccine status or a negative test to enter some venues and events in England.

However, 98 of the 126 MPs who voted against the controversial decision to require a Covid pass were Tories - showing a sizeable number of rebels from Boris Johnson's party. There are 361 Conservatives in the Commons.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this morning denied on LBC that Boris Johnson's authority has been undermined by the Tory revolt.

Mr Shapps said: "In terms of his authority, I saw Prime Minister on Sunday night asking the country to get the booster jab and yesterday walked past huge queues around the block of people responding to the Prime Minister's plea.

"Having been the person to get this country first of all jabbed ahead of every other major economy and now booster jabbed ahead of every other country, comes down personally to the authority of the Prime Minister."

The approval of the measures was never in doubt because Labour had said it would support Plan B. A total of 369 MPs across the Conservative and Labour parties backed the mandatory use of the Covid pass.

Read more: Half a million booster jabs given out on Monday as UK battles Omicron

Read more: Lateral flow tests unavailable on Government website for second day

But the sizeable rebellion demonstrates the scale of some Tories' opposition to the return of measures, brought back to restrain Omicron while adults get boosted.

It also follows concerns within Mr Johnson's own party over the way he has handled allegations about a Downing Street Christmas party last year, while London was under Covid measures, and his virtual appearance at a quiz.

Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: "The Prime Minister's authority is completely shattered and Tory MPs now have to ask themselves very seriously if this man can carry the support and confidence of the country to lead us through the next difficult phase of this pandemic."

He added: "I'm really proud of what we have achieved today. I'm really proud we were able to help the Government over the line but I am not proud of this Prime Minister and I'm appalled at the way he is undermining public trust and public confidence at a crucial moment in the pandemic.

"His authority is shattered, I don't understand how he thinks he can go on and to be honest I'd be surprised if many Conservative MPs think he can either."

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who was among the rebels, told LBC's Iain Dale: "We had almost 100 Conservative MPs voted against the Government, and there were a number of abstentions so that's a very significant message, I think, to the Government.

"Partly on vaccine passports, a very clear message that Conservatives don't find them acceptable… but I think also a message, and I made this clear in my speech in the House of Commons, a message to the Prime Minister about doing things differently, about treating Parliament seriously, about making sure if he has to bring any more measures forward that they're brought forward in Parliament in advance, the evidence presented."

Conservative MP Paul Bristow, who supported the Government, said: "Boris is the comeback kid. I think Boris Johnson's premiership won't be defined by this."

He added that he hoped the PM will be remembered for the levelling up policy and other manifesto pledges like recruiting police officers, and said the vote tonight showed his Tory colleagues had "really principled" views on Covid measures.

The 98 rebel Tories were joined by 10 Liberal Democrats, 8 Labour MPs, six from the DUP, two independents - including Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader - and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party.

The new Covid pass rules require revellers going to nightclubs or certain large events and venues to demonstrate their vaccination status. Failing that, they must provide proof of a negative Covid test or show they are exempt.

Besides nightclubs, the pass or proof will be required in indoor unseated venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

The Government split the Plan B vote into different parts. In another vote on Tuesday evening, MPs also approved the expanded rules on face coverings, which require people to wear them in most indoor public places.

That saw a smaller vote against.

Exempt from the mask mandate are venues where customers consume food and drink, like pubs and restaurants, places such as gyms where people are exercising, or when people are dancing, for example in a nightclub.

MPs also supported the introduction of compulsory vaccination for NHS frontline workers and social care staff.