Boris Johnson is facing the biggest revolt of his premiership from backbench Conservatives as MPs prepare to vote on “plan B” measures, including Covid passes for large venues, the extension of mandatory face masks and changes to self-isolation rules.
It comes after the prime minister warned the country it was facing a “tidal wave” of infections from the omicron variant, and pleaded with colleagues that the new rules were “balanced and proportionate”.
But dozens of Tory MPs have indicated they will either abstain or vote against the proposals to introduce Covid passes in England, forcing the prime minister to rely on votes from Labour MPs in order to get the measure through the Commons on Tuesday.
While the measures are expected to be approved, it would be another blow to Mr Johnson’s authority after a torrid few weeks caused by anger over a Christmas party in Downing Street during the winter of 2020 and just days before a critical by-election in the ultra-safe Tory seat of North Shropshire – a constituency where the Lib Dems are the bookies’ favourites to win.
Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale told Times Radio on Monday evening he had considered submitting a letter of no confidence in the prime minister and warned if the voters send a message to No 10 at Thursday’s election “then that could be a tipping point”
According to a tally of Conservative MPs by The Spectator magazine, 79 Conservative MPs, including former ministers, members of the 2019 intake and lockdown-sceptic backbenchers, have suggested they will vote against or abstain on the plan B measures when the prime minister puts the issue to a vote on Tuesday.
In December last year, 55 Tories voted against proposals to strengthen the tiered system of Covid restrictions – the biggest revolt of Mr Johnson’s premiership so far.
Earlier, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said that England’s proposed Covid pass system will be tightened from the start of 2022 to require evidence of two vaccines and a booster as a means of gaining access to crowded venues like nightclubs.
From Wednesday – under the plan B measures – entry to mass-audience events currently requires evidence of two jabs or a recent negative test for Covid-19, unless the individual has an exemption from vaccinations for medical reasons.
But Mr Javid told the House of Commons that the pass, carried on the NHS smartphone app, will also require a booster “once all adults have had a reasonable chance to get their booster”.
As the government has promised that all those aged 18 or over should have a chance to get their booster jab by New Year’s Eve, the new restriction can be expected to be in place early in 2022. People will still be able to avoid the requirement to show a Covid pass by giving evidence of a recent test, in the form of an email or text message from the NHS confirming that they have reported a negative result in the past 48 hours.
From Wednesday this week, Covid passes or negative tests will be required by law for entry not only to nightclubs, but also to indoor events with 500 or more unseated attendees, unseated outdoor events with a capacity of 4,000 or more and any event with more than 10,000 people present. The restriction, announced in response to the arrival in the UK of the highly contagious omicron variant, covers many large sporting and music events, such as Premier League football matches.
But there is an exemption for events of communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorative events, protests and mass participation sporting events.
The tightening of conditions for Covid passes reflects scientific advice that two doses of vaccine offers only limited protection against omicron, while a booster increases it to 75 per cent or more.
In a sign of the Tory anger at the measure, former cabinet minister Dame Andrea Leadsom told the health secretary on Monday that she had spoken to a constituent who was now “less afraid of Covid than she is of intrusive and incoherent government regulations”.
Mr Javid told the Commons: “From Wednesday – subject to this House – you’ll need to show a negative lateral flow test to get into nightclubs and large events, with an exemption for the double vaccinated.
“Once all adults have had a reasonable chance to get their booster jab, we intend to change this exemption to require a booster dose. Even with plan B, we still have far fewer restrictions in place than Europe.”
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