Nearly 100 Tory lawmakers voted against the new coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday, dealing a blow to the authority of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and raising questions about his leadership.
After a day of frantic and unsuccessful lobbying, Johnson was entrusted with the biggest rebellion against his government to date by his party over the measures he felt were necessary to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant.
The new rules, which ordered people to wear masks in public places and use COVID-19 passes for certain places, were passed in large part thanks to the main opposition Labor Party.
But the revolt puts pressure on Johnson, already under fire with scandals such as parties reported in his Downing Street office last year – when Britain was stranded by COVID-19 – and a costly renovation to his apartment .
Rebel lawmakers said the vote was a wake-up call that it had to change the way government operated, or it would face a leadership challenge.
Some 99 conservatives have opposed the COVID pass plans, a number of rebels much higher than expected. Originally the official figure was set at 98, but the number was later revised upwards.
Among those who voted against the government was lawmaker Louie French who was only elected Tory MP at the start of the month, while media reported that former Prime Minister Theresa May was among 17 other people who stood up. are abstained.
Many conservatives say some of the new measures are draconian, with several questioning the introduction of a vaccination certificate or proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter certain places, such as nightclubs.
Others have used the votes as an opportunity to express their anger at Johnson, saying the man who helped the Tories win a large majority in the 2019 election was wasting the party’s successes on missteps and blunders self-inflicted.
But despite growls of discontent, Conservative Party insiders say there isn’t enough groundswell against Johnson to dislodge him now, though they are hoping the vote will be a “wake-up call” for the Prime Minister. Minister resets his program.
“He must now be in danger,” Tory lawmaker Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told Sky News. “And he has to realize it because if he doesn’t realize it then he will be in much greater danger… I still support him.” But he has to change.
Britain reported 59,610 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, the highest figure since early January and the fifth highest since the pandemic began in March of last year.
More than 5,300 cases of Omicron have been recorded, with 10 people hospitalized. One person has died after contracting the variant, which is expected to become the dominant strain in the capital London.
Before the vote, the government had launched a campaign to keep lawmakers in check, with Johnson warning his ministers that there was a “huge spike” in Britain’s favored Omicron cases and that action was needed to protect people.
The ministers tried to convince the Tory rebels, noting that people who haven’t had two vaccines can instead provide evidence of a negative lateral flow test to gain access to indoor rooms of more than 500 people.
Health Minister Sajid Javid told lawmakers he strongly believes in “individual freedom” but that “the responsible decision to be taken is … to move to Plan B in England”.
But their arguments have fallen on deaf ears. In addition to the 99 Conservatives who voted against the passes, 40 voted against expanding the mask requirement.
“I am sure the prime minister will understand the strength of feelings within the party regarding the constraint on freedoms,” former Conservative minister David Jones told Reuters. “He is a libertarian himself and I have no doubt that he will listen to his party’s message.”
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