Boris Johnson has suffered the largest rebellion since he became Prime Minister as nearly 100 Tory MPs voted against measures which would usher in the mandatory use of Covid passes.
The new measures passed the Commons thanks to the support of Labour, but the PM’s attempts to quell a rebellion on his own backbenches failed as a large number of his MPs defied the whip to vote against him on the issue of the passes, which have also been known as vaccine passports.
And Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee said a leadership challenge next year had “got to be on the cards” if the PM did not change his approach.
Other measures under the Government’s Plan B also cleared the Commons, but the vote on Covid passes will be seen as a blow to Mr Johnson’s authority after a challenging week for the PM.
Earlier, Mr Johnson had addressed the 1922 Committee to try and convince them to back his plans.
And he had been individually speaking to those who had publicly said they would oppose the measure earlier in the day.
Some seemed convinced after the meeting, but in the end 126 MPs voted against the use of the passes at nightclubs and large venues.
Some 96 Conservative MPs voted against the Covid pass regulations for England.
Two Tory MPs also acted as tellers for the noes.
While 369 MPs backed the move, giving a majority of 243.
Before Tuesday, the biggest rebellion Mr 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. This includes the two MPs who acted as tellers for the noes.
It comes as 59,610 new cases have been reported today in the UK – the fifth highest daily total since the Covid pandemic began.
Another 150 Covid-linked deaths have also been reported, taking the total to 146,627.
Ministry of fear
Boris Johnson’s Government has been accused of developing a “ministry of fear” during the pandemic, as Tory MPs voiced concerns over a future extension of Covid passes.
Tory former minister Sir Desmond Swayne insisted people are prepared to decide their “risk appetite” before suggesting the “dogs of war” had been let loose with officials, including scientific advisers to the Government, “twisting the fear lever”.
He questioned which “Stalinist minds” had thought up the name behind the UK Health Protection Agency, adding: “Get them out there twisting the fear button and by and large you will get the reaction you want, people will crave more enforcement and more fearsome measures to protect them from this great danger that is out there.”
Sir Desmond said hospitality has been left to be “collateral damage”, adding: “That’s the situation that we have delivered.
“The Government, having administered this ministry of fear, is absolutely complicit with its officials and organisations that have designed it and delivered it.
“They have abandoned in doing that any principle of social democracy, of liberal democracy, absolutely beyond anything we’ve endured in recent living memory in the history of this pandemic.
“And as a consequence, having abandoned what might have been their ideology, they are rudderless and as a consequence of that so much more at risk of the opinions and predictions of the advisers to which they are in hock.”
Conservative Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) added: “In my view the most dangerous epidemic sweeping the world and sweeping our country is an epidemic of fear. It has seriously damaged mental health and in particularly damaged the mental health of our young people, it must end.”
Tory former chief whip Mark Harper warned MPs are “kidding themselves” if they think Covid passes will remain limited to nightclubs and large venues in England as a condition of entry.
He said: “Everywhere they have been introduced, they have extended it, in terms of the venues they apply to.
“Anyone who thinks that they are going to stick to what is currently on the order paper, I am afraid are kidding themselves.”
He added: “In the Government’s own Plan B it is very clear ministers’ preference is for vaccine-only passports.
“It is very clear to me that the only reason why tests have been incorporated is to buy or secure the support of the opposition.
“That is the only reason.
“So we know what ministers would like to do if they could get away with it.”