Boris Johnson hit by massive Tory rebellion over coronavirus restrictions

Boris Johnson suffered a blow to his administration on Tuesday when nearly 100 Tory MPs voted against a key measure to limit the growing spread of the coronavirus variant Omicron.

The uprising, the biggest rebellion Johnson has endured since he became UK prime minister, is a warning sign that Tory MPs will be strongly against any move to introduce add anti-Covid restrictions, even as the epidemic worsens.

Johnson won a raft of votes for his “Plan B” to deal with Covid – wearing a mask, instructing to work from home and requiring a negative test or vaccine certificate to participate in events. mass action – but only for Labor support.

In the most controversial issue, the Covid certification, around 99 Tories have challenged the prime minister, easily surpassing the 55 rebels who rejected the new Covid restrictions in the UK last December.

Johnson won by a vote of 369 to 126, but the scale of the uprising, greeted with gasps in the Commons chamber, was ominous. A government official admitted: “This is by far the worst end of expectations.

It follows a series of self-inflicted mistakes by the prime minister, from the mess in parliament to last year’s Downing Street Christmas party. Just an hour earlier Johnson had personally begged Tory MPs to support him.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a veteran Tory MP and a Covid rebel, said Johnson was “in danger” and some MPs were considering sending a letter of no confidence.

Louie French, who won the Bexley by-election for the Tories earlier this month, voted against Johnson. A senior party official said the Conservatives’ whips had “failed” about 20 potential rebels, suggesting they were losing control of party discipline. “We’re in very cold waters,” the official said.

Johnson now faces a perilous parliamentary election in North Shropshire on Thursday, with the prospect of further talk of a leadership challenge if his party loses to the Liberal Democrats.

The Covid uprising comes after a concerted effort by party members and Health Minister Sajid Javid, to convince the rebels of the seriousness of the situation. Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, gave what one Tory MP called an “apocalyptic” briefing to MPs in which he said the number of infections would be “scary”. in the run-up to Christmas.

Javid told MPs that 200,000 cases of Omicron a day have now occurred, while ministers debate the possible impact on private and public sector employers in the coming weeks. when the virus entered the workforce.

Tory MPs are concerned that Johnson, after securing approval for his Plan B measures, will soon introduce further restrictions, possibly after MPs leave Westminster on Thursday for a break Christmas.

Tory MPs are asking Johnson to recall parliament if he decides to impose new Covid rules while MPs are on Christmas break between December 16 and January 5, but have not received a pledge. end like that.

But Downing Street has promised that MPs will eventually have a vote on any new measure, setting off another potential clash between the scientific advice for Johnson to impose new restrictions and the Tory MPs are skeptical of the lockdown.

Johnson’s warning of a “major spike” in cases has led some Tory MPs to believe he could soon impose new restrictions on social gatherings or in the hospitality sector.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said on Tuesday he did not believe new restrictions would be needed at this time. “We had a Plan B – that’s what we thought was needed over the Christmas period,” he said.

But Raab also insisted last week that Plan B was unnecessary, just 24 hours before Boris Johnson activated it. Downing Street declined to speculate about the need for pub closures and other restrictions.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister of the exchequer, has warned colleagues about the rising costs of the Covid crisis, especially if intensified campaigns are needed in the coming years to deal with the adverse events. new body.

According to allies, Sunak has warned that if boosters are required annually, perhaps over a shorter period of time, the bill could easily rise by £10 billion over the next decade. New therapies could also add to the NHS bill.

But Sunak aides stressed that any extra money would have to be found through public spending cuts across Whitehall and would not be funded by higher taxes or more debt.

“The prime minister is clear that he is not going to raise taxes anymore on people who are working,” said one colleague. Sunak is desperate to beat her reputation as prime minister overseeing the UK’s highest tax burden since 1950.

Sunak has so far declined to provide further assistance to travel and hotel companies struggling with losing businesses during the Omicron wave, but has not ruled out more help in a “hypothetical” situation. when new restrictions are introduced. Boris Johnson hit by massive Tory rebellion over coronavirus restrictions

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