‘Public health comes before party politics’: Labour to vote for ‘plan B’ Covid measures amid Tory rebellion

‘Tempting though it might be for the parliamentary defeat on the government that would not be the right thing to do in terms of public health’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 10 December 2021 09:14

Labour will vote to approve the government’s Covid “plan B” measures next week, Wes Streeting has confirmed, as Boris Johnson faces a mass revolt from his own MPs.

Stressing he had confidence in scientific advisers, Labour’s shadow health secretary said he did not want Sajid Javid, the health secretary, going into the weekend “worried about whether he’s got the votes” to deliver key public health measures.

“Despite the trouble the government find themselves in, public health will still come before party politics,” Mr Streeting insisted.

His remarks come after a slew of Tory rebels spoke out against the prime minister’s plans for Covid passports — a key tenant of the “plan B” measures — ahead of a Commons vote on the issue next Tuesday and amid wider discontent in the party.

Last night rebels were confident of topping the tally of 40 needed to neutralise Mr Johnson’s 79-seat majority — leaving him at the mercy of the support of opposition parties at Westminster in order to put the Covid restrictions into law.

“Tempting though it might be for the parliamentary defeat on the government that would not be the right thing to do in terms of public health,” Mr Streeting told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Across the country there are people who feel let down, lied to and laughed at by Boris Johnson, by the people around him and the chaotic nature of the prime minister is undermining public health at a critical moment in the pandemic.”

He added: “My message to the country is I understand why you’re angry, I understand why you don’t trust Boris Johnson — I don’t trust Boris Johnson — but I do trust the chief medical officer, I do trust the chief scientific adviser, and on that basis I will make sure that Sajid Javid has the votes he needs to get these public health measures through.”

Mr Streeting said the measures being voted on next week, including the extension of mandatory face masks and Covid passports, alongside guidance from the government to work from home, “strike the balance between trying to reduce social contact but safeguard social interaction at a time of the year that really means something to family, to friends”.

After a week of turmoil for the prime minister, including questions over a Christmas party held at No 10 in December 2020, new Covid restrictions, and whether Mr Johnson misled his standards adviser, the business minister Paul Scully also admitted on BBC Breakfast that key government messages were getting lost.

“Look, I feel very comfortable about the prime minister’s integrity,” he said. “Clearly though, I don’t feel comfortable about the face that it’s been a difficult week for the government.”

However, when pressed on the No 10 party, the minister reiterated that it was key to “get to the bottom” of the allegations through the cabinet secretary Simon Case’s investigation which was launched earlier this week by the prime minister.

He would also not be drawn on whether the No 10 director of communications, Jack Doyle, should still be in his job after allegations he attended last year’s gathering.

Labour said that Mr Doyle’s presence, first reported by ITV News, exposed the investigation being carried out by the cabinet secretary as “a sham” and showed that Mr Johnson was “unfit to lead”. The development also raises questions over the information issued to journalists by Downing Street spokespeople, who have previously insisted that no party took place on that date.

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