England’s Covid Plan B has passed despite the biggest revolt of Boris Johnson’s premiership that wiped out his majority – with Labour saying the rebels showed “the shattered authority” of the Prime Minister
Boris Johnson’s premiership was plunged into turmoil tonight as his Covid Plan B suffered by far the biggest revolt since he took power.
Forcing punters to show ‘Covid passes’ – their vaccine status or a negative test – at nightclubs and crowded venues in England passed by 369 votes to 126.
Rebels included more than 100 Tory MPs – the most in any vote since Mr Johnson swept to power in 2019 and easily wiping out his 80-odd working majority.
The health measures only passed because Keir Starmer said it was Labour ’s “patriotic duty” to back them.
Yet already the PM could be forced to be bring in even more restrictions as cases of the Omicron Covid variant spiral.
Tory grandee Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said he was not demanding the Prime Minister be toppled – “yet”. But he said a leadership challenge next year “has got to be on the cards. He’s got to realise that and he’s got to change”.
Sir Geoffrey told Sky News: “He’s got to now be in some danger and he’s got to realise that, because if he doesn’t realise that he’ll be in much bigger danger.”
It came despite Mr Johnson making a last-minute plea to his own MPs on the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers – where he forgot his mask while leaving a packed room.
He told MPs at the meeting “we have absolutely no choice”, and described his plans as “balanced and propionate”.
He went on to say he wants the country to be as “free as we possibly can” before adding there would be “no closure of hospitality”.
But it’s thought he stopped short of an outright guarantee after No10 repeatedly refused to rule out further restrictions before Christmas.
A government source told the Daily Mail parliament would be recalled over the Christmas break if more Covid restrictions were needed.
Meanwhile the extension of face masks to more venues like theatres and cinemas passed by 441 votes to 41.
Labour’s Wes Streeting told Sky News after the Covid passes defeat: “The size of that vote is a reflection of the shattered authority of Boris Johnson.
“He’s got to ask himself whether he is the right man to lead our country through the next phase of the pandemic, and Conservative MPs should be asking that question too.”
The Shadow Health Secretary stopped short of calling for the PM to resign, but added: “The rebellion’s huge, it’s far greater than we anticipated.
“That is an extraordinary, extraordinary rebellion. Labour has carried the day – the government has lost its majority.
“We stuck by our word. We promised we would put public health before party politics. We did that and we carried the government over the line.”
Others voting against Covid passes included Jeremy Corbyn, who remains without the Labour whip. He said Covid passes and compulsory jabs for NHS staff “are counterproductive and will create division when we need cooperation and unity.”
It comes after Cabinet ministers were warned hospitals could be overwhelmed in weeks as the Omicron variant sends thousands of NHS staff off sick.
Likewise ministers were told some pubs, shops and restaurants could have to shut if staff shortages leave them high and dry, according to reports.
Silver Screen Beat originally reported that ministers were warned some hospitals could have to turn patients away, but this was denied by Downing Street.
The PM’s spokesman insisted there had not been “any discussion or any warning about hospitals or clinical settings having to close as a result of this variant”.
He added: “We have strong measures in place and robust, and now tested, procedures in place to ensure [public services] can continue.”
But No10 refused to rule out bringing in more restrictions before Christmas – as Nicola Sturgeon advised Scots to socialise in groups of three households or less at a time.
And MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Covid heard alarming evidence about the rapid spread of Omicron – and how it could hit the NHS this winter.
Hospitals will come under “huge pressure” and are braced for a “significant” number of admissions, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers said.
“We were already beyond full stretch before we got to winter,” he said. “We are now facing the prospect of significant numbers of hospitalisations, probably starting in the next week to two weeks, and then also the fact that we absolutely need to focus on getting this booster vaccination take-up which has got to be the top priority for the next two to three to four weeks.
“Add all of that together, there is a huge amount for pressure on the service.”
No10 said a shock model suggesting 200,000 people got infected with Omicron yesterday was “valid” – as the PM warned ministers a “huge spike” is coming.
The warning about hospitals came during the first virtual Cabinet meeting in months, addressed by England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty.
Prof Whitty told ministers to expect a “significant increase in hospitalisations” as cases rise, adding it was too early to say how severe Omicron was.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab insisted Plan B restrictions including mandatory mask-wearing and the use of Covid health certificates for large venues will be sufficient over Christmas, meaning families can “spend it with loved ones”.
But reports overnight have suggested pubs could have entry restrictions and furlough could be brought back.
No10 refused to rule out the measures, calling them “speculation” and “hypothetical” and adding: “We need to learn more about this variant on things like severity before we decide what, if any, action is needed in the future.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman added the government “have the ability” to make changes to restrictions and refused to rule out doing so during MPs’ Christmas break.
This breaking news story is being updated.