Dozens of Conservative legislators have voted against some new coronavirus restrictions, dealing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson another embarrassing blow over measures he said are necessary to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant.
After a day of frenzied lobbying, the prime minister failed to thwart a rebellion against measures, including ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use COVID-19 passes to enter some venues.
The measures passed thanks largely to the opposition Labour Party. But the revolt piled pressure on Johnson, already under fire for scandals including reported parties in his Downing Street office last year when gatherings were banned under a coronavirus lockdown, and a pricey refurbishment of his apartment.
Many of his lawmakers said some restrictions are draconian, with several questioning the introduction of a certificate of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter some venues, such as nightclubs.
Some 126 lawmakers voted against introducing the passes, while 369 supported the move.
Others used the votes as an opportunity to vent their anger at Johnson, believing the man who helped the Conservatives win a large majority at a 2019 election is squandering the party’s successes with self-inflicted missteps and gaffes.
Despite the rumblings of discontent, Conservative Party insiders said there is not enough of a groundswell against Johnson to dislodge him yet, with no potential challenger commanding enough support to replace him.
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom reported 59,610 new COVID-19 cases, the highest figure since early January and the fifth-highest recorded since the outbreak of the pandemic in March last year.
More than 5,300 cases of Omicron have also been recorded, with 10 people hospitalised. One person has died after contracting the variant.
Before the vote, the government had mounted a campaign to keep lawmakers in check, with Johnson warning his ministers there was a “huge spike” in Omicron cases heading the UK’s way, and that the measures were needed to protect people.
Ministers tried to win over the Conservative rebels, noting that people who have not been double-jabbed can instead offer proof of a negative lateral flow test to gain access to indoor venues of more than 500 people.
Health minister Sajid Javid told lawmakers he firmly believed in “individual liberty” but that “the responsible decision to take is … to move to plan B in England”.
But their arguments fell on deaf ears.
Conservative Andrew Bridgen said before voting that some legislators were determined to “draw a line in the sand with regard to any further erosion of civil liberties and freedoms”.
Conservative former minister David Johnson described the move to introduce COVID passes as “quite wrong”.
“People should certainly be encouraged to have the vaccine … but ultimately people have to take responsibility for their own health,” he told the Reuters news agency.