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Boris Johnson hit by huge Tory rise up on coronavirus restrictions

Boris Johnson suffered a crushing blow to his authority on Tuesday when nearly 100 Tory MPs voted towards a key measure to curb the rising unfold of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The rise up, the most important suffered by Johnson since he grew to become UK prime minister, is a warning signal that Tory MPs will strongly resist any transfer to introduce additional anti-Covid restrictions, even when the epidemic worsens.

Johnson gained a sequence of votes on his “Plan B” to sort out Covid — mask-wearing, work at home steerage and a requirement for a damaging check or vaccine certificates to enter mass occasions — however solely due to Labour assist.

On probably the most contentious concern, Covid certification, some 99 Tories defied the prime minister, simply surpassing the 55 rebels who rejected new Covid restrictions in England in December final 12 months.

Johnson gained the vote by 369 to 126, however the scale of the rise up, greeted with audible gasps within the Commons chamber, was ominous. “That is by far on the worst finish of expectations,” admitted one authorities official.

It follows a sequence of self-inflicted errors by the prime minister, from parliamentary sleaze to Christmas events in Downing Avenue final 12 months. Solely an hour earlier Johnson had pleaded in particular person with Tory MPs to again him.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a veteran Tory MP and a Covid insurgent, mentioned Johnson was “in some hazard” and a few MPs had been contemplating submitting no-confidence letters.

Louie French, who gained the Bexley by-election for the Tories earlier this month, voted towards Johnson. One senior occasion official mentioned Conservative whips had “missed” about 20 potential rebels, suggesting that they had been shedding management of occasion self-discipline. “We’re in very uneven waters,” the official mentioned.

Johnson now faces a dangerous parliamentary by-election in North Shropshire on Thursday, with the prospect of additional discuss of a management problem if his occasion loses to the Liberal Democrats.

The Covid rise up got here after a concerted effort by occasion whips and Sajid Javid, well being secretary, to steer rebels of the severity of the state of affairs. Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, gave what one Tory MP referred to as an “apocalyptic” briefing to parliamentarians by which he mentioned numbers of infections can be “scary” within the run-up to Christmas.

Javid instructed MPs that 200,000 Omicron infections a day had been now occurring, whereas ministers debated the seemingly impression on personal and public sector employers within the coming weeks because the virus rips via the workforce.

Tory MPs worry that Johnson, having secured approval for his Plan B measures, will quickly introduce additional restrictions, presumably after MPs have left Westminster on Thursday for his or her Christmas break.

Tory MPs are demanding that Johnson recall parliament if he decides to impose new Covid guidelines whereas MPs are on their Christmas recess from December 16 to January 5, however have obtained no such enterprise.

However Downing Avenue has promised that MPs will in the end have a vote on any new measures, organising one other potential conflict between scientific recommendation to Johnson to impose new restrictions and lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs.

Johnson’s warning of a “big spike” in circumstances has left some Tory MPs satisfied that he may quickly begin imposing contemporary restrictions on social gatherings or within the hospitality sector.

Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister, mentioned on Tuesday that he didn’t imagine that new restrictions can be wanted for now. “We’ve received Plan B — that’s what we expect is required over the Christmas interval,” he mentioned.

However Raab additionally insisted final week that Plan B was pointless, simply 24 hours earlier than Boris Johnson activated it. Downing Avenue declined to take a position on whether or not pub closures and different restrictions can be wanted.

In the meantime, Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer, has warned colleagues concerning the rising prices of the Covid disaster, significantly if booster jab campaigns are wanted in future years to cope with new variants.

Based on allies, Sunak has warned that if boosters had been required yearly, maybe on shorter time intervals, the invoice may simply high £10bn over the following decade. New therapeutics may additionally add to the NHS invoice.

However Sunak’s aides insist that any extra cash must be discovered via cuts to public spending throughout Whitehall and wouldn’t be funded by greater taxes or extra borrowing.

“The chancellor is evident he is not going to be elevating taxes any extra on working individuals,” mentioned one colleague. Sunak is determined to shed his popularity because the chancellor overseeing the best UK tax burden since 1950.

Sunak can be to date refusing to supply additional assist to hospitality and journey corporations combating misplaced enterprise throughout the Omicron wave, however has not excluded extra assist in the “hypothetical” state of affairs the place new restrictions had been launched.

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