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Conservative revolt over COVID curbs deals stinging blow to UK PM Johnson

Stock Markets37 minutes ago (Dec 14, 2021 20:00)

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson records an address to the nation, to provide an update on the booster vaccine COVID-19 programme at Downing Street, London, Britain December 12, 2021. Kirsty O’Connor/Pool via REUTERS

By Elizabeth Piper and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) -Almost 100 Conservative lawmakers voted on Tuesday against some new coronavirus restrictions, dealing British 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 failed lobbying, Johnson was handed the biggest rebellion against his government so far by his party over some of the measures that included ordering people to wear masks in public places and use COVID-19 passes for some venues.

The measures passed thanks largely to the main opposition Labour Party. But the revolt piles pressure on Johnson, already under fire over scandals such as reported parties in his Downing Street office last year – when Britain was in a COVID-19 lockdown – and a pricey refurbishment of his apartment.

Many of his lawmakers say 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 night clubs. Some 98 Conservatives opposed the passes, a much higher number of rebels than was expected.

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 by self-inflicted missteps and gaffes.

But despite the rumblings of discontent, Conservative Party insiders say there is not enough of a groundswell against Johnson to dislodge him now, although they hope the vote will be a “wake-up call” for the prime minister to reset his agenda.

“He’s got to now be in some danger,” Conservative lawmaker Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told Sky News. “And he’s got to realise that because if he doesn’t realise that, then he will be in much bigger danger…I’m still backing him. But he’s got to change.”

‘HUGE SPIKE’

Britain reported 59,610 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, 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 been recorded, with 10 people hospitalised. One person has died https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/britain-says-omicron-spreading-phenomenal-rate-2021-12-13 after contracting the variant, which is set to become the dominant strain in the capital London.

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 Britain’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 had two vaccinations 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. In addition to the 98 Conservatives who voted against the passes, 40 voted against expanding the requirement for mask wearing.

“I am sure that the prime minister will understand the strength of feeling within the party about the constraint of liberties,” Conservative former minister David Jones told Reuters. “He is a libertarian himself and I have no doubt that he will listen to the message from his party.”

Conservative revolt over COVID curbs deals stinging blow to UK PM Johnson

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