French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Tuesday that the suspension of the vaccine pass bill in parliament was nothing short of a political coup, after lawmakers refused to discuss the pass after midnight last night – a move he described as "irresponsible".
“I don’t understand that after a certain number of officials in your party voted for the vaccination pass, last night 32 deputies voted against it,” said Castex, referring to the mainstream right Les Republicans party.
He hailed those who are pushing for the debate to be reopened without delay.
Heated discussions in parliament on the bill were suspended after midnight on Monday after a majority of MPs in the lower house voted to suspend the late-night session.
The move caught the government’s LaRem party by surprise, and there were not enough lawmakers physically present to block the motion.
The legislation being debated would make it mandatory for people to show proof of vaccination to go to restaurants or cinemas or other public spaces, and remove the option of showing a recent negative test.
The government argues this is necessary to stop the rapid spread of Covid, driven by the Omicron variant. But the legislation has faced strong resistance from the hard-right National Rally and the hard-left France unbowed, whose MPs have vowed to vote against it.
The dramatic move to suspend debate was celebrated by the opposition, though it is just a momentary setback, as the bill is backed by the government, which has a majority in parliament.
National Rally leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen tweeted the move was a “victory for democracy”, to keep debate over the vaccine pass from being discussed overnight, “far from the view” of the public.
France Unbowed leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is also running for president, said that the move puts health minister Olivier Veran, who has argued in favour of the bill, in his place.
The Republicans party has publicly supported the bill, though several MPs voted with the opposition to stop debate on Monday night.
The president of the Republicans group in parliament, Damien Abad, called the suspension a “humiliation” for the government’s LaRem party, which found itself in a minority in the chamber.
LaRem has come under fire for not taking the debates seriously, and it is not the first time that the party has found itself short on votes on Covid legislation.
The president of the parliamentary group, Christophe Castaner, called on MPs to “stay present and mobilised all week”.
Staying on course?
The heads of the various parliamentary groups must now set a new date for debates to resume, said National Assembly Vice-president Annie Genevard.
Once the legislation is passed, it needs to be voted on by the senate before becoming law.
Government officials have vowed to implement the legislation by its planned date of 15 January
Calling the suspension a cynical “act of politics”, junior minister for European affairs, Clement Beaune told LCI television that lawmakers could be called to debate over the weekend.
“We need to move fast," he said.