Boris Johnson was hit with a massive Tory revolt tonight and warned a leadership challenge is ‘on the cards’ as he only managed to force through introducing Covid passes with Labour support.
The Commons signed off the tighter rules, but the size of the uprising was comfortably the biggest yet. Some 99 Conservative MPs – around half of all backbenchers – went against the PM after accusing him of overseeing a ‘ministry of fear’ with ‘hysterical’ claims about Omicron.
The extraordinary rebellion came despite Mr Johnson making a desperate last-ditch plea to Tory Covid rebels before the showdown, insisting he has ‘no choice’ about imposing curbs.
One of the rebel Tories was Louie French, who only won his Old Bexley and Sidcup seat in a by-election 12 days ago. He tonight said he was honouring a ‘clear pre-election pledge that I would not support Covid passes’.
There was another big mutiny over making vaccination compulsory for health and care staff, which passed by 385 to 100 – more than enough to offset the premier’s sizeable 80-strong majority if Keir Starmer had not backed him.
Earlier the House signed off on tighter mask rules by 441 to 41. Including two tellers who counted for the Noes, 40 Tories defied the whip to oppose the move. The House also ‘nodded through’ changes to replace isolation rules with daily testing for the fully-vaccinated.
The outcome raises serious questions about whether Mr Johnson has the political capital to bring in harsher measures that might be needed if Omicron runs rampant.
Veteran Tory Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a member of the 1922 Committee executive, warned that Mr Johnson is ‘in danger’ and a leadership contest next year is ‘on the cards’. ‘The PM has got to think very carefully about how he is going to reset his performance,’ he said.