Boris Johnson has been hit by the largest rebellion since he became prime minister over plans to introduce Covid passes as Omicron sweeps through the UK. But it was not enough to derail so-called ‘Plan B’.
MPs on Tuesday held a series of votes on Downing Street’s new Covid strategy, and 126 members of parliament made clear their unease with the mandatory introduction of Covid health certificates for large venues in England by voting against the measure.
Some 369 MPs voted for the plan, a majority of 243. A breakdown of the vote suggested 99 Conservative voted against the policy.
Among the Tory rebels was Louie French, the Conservative Party’s newest MP who was elected less than two weeks ago. Two Tory MPs also acted as tellers for the noes.
Eight Labour MPs, 10 Liberal Democrats, six DUP, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Independent MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Rob Roberts also opposed the regulations, according to the list.
Before Tuesday, the biggest rebellion Johnson had faced was in December 2020, against the strengthening of Covid-19 tier restrictions in England.
Then, a total of 55 Conservative MPs voted against the government.
The face mask mandate expansion passed easily, and new self-isolation measures went through without a vote. A vote on compulsory vaccines for NHS staff also received approval from MPs – but the division list showed 61 Conservative MPs voted against the regulations.
The votes were never in doubt given Labour’s support for the measures.
The PM announced he wanted to introduce these stricter measures on December 8, explaining that it was now the “proportionate and responsible thing” to do following the surge in Omicron cases in the UK.
Johnson on Tuesday increased his warnings over the rapidly spreading new strain of Covid, telling a virtual Cabinet meeting a “huge spike of Omicron was coming”.
But the Tory unease was reflected by Charles Walker, the vice-chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, who said the rebellion was a “cry of pain” by the party.
He told BBC News: “This was just a bridge too far. I think they were putting a marker down. It was a cry of pain from the Conservative Party.
“He (Boris Johnson) is in a very, very, very difficult position. There has been a strong view in within the Conservative Party that vaccine passports do not work and is not something many colleagues wanted to see introduced.
“This is a very, very specific line being drawn in the sand now and I think the prime minister and his team need to listen.”
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922, said a leadership challenge next year had “got to be on the cards” if the PM did not change his approach.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.