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14 December 2021

Boris Johnson suffers bruising rebellion as lockdown scepticism hits the Tory mainstream

The revolt shows that Johnson or any alternative PM will struggle to impose another lockdown and remain in their job.

By Stephen Bush

More than 100 Conservative MPs broke the whip to vote against further coronavirus restrictions, with 98 opposing the measures and at least half a dozen going absent without leave. 

It is a rebellion that tells us two things: the first is that relations between Boris Johnson and the parliamentary party continue to be in the deep freezer, and the second is that opposition to further non-pharmaceutical measures within the Conservative Party is now mainstream.

Rebels came from every intake and from across the party’s traditions. One senior Conservative told me their one hope was that if they could not cap the number of rebels, they could at least cap the type: reduce the dissenters to die-hard opponents of lockdown on the Tory right and irreconcilable opponents of Johnson on the party’s left.  Although both tendencies were well-represented, they were joined by plenty of usually loyal backbenchers in a demonstration of the depth and breadth of anti-lockdown sentiment in the parliamentary party.

Johnson will comfort himself that he did, at least, retain the support of the majority of his backbenchers, but the scale of the rebellion will do nothing to quell the speculation that his leadership has entered its final act. 

More important, given the uncertainty about what the Omicron variant means for healthcare capacity, is what it demonstrates about the Conservative Party’s stomach for more draconian measures, such as lockdown or capacity restraints on business. Whether it is Boris Johnson or his replacement, the ability of a Conservative Prime Minister to impose another lockdown and remain in their job afterwards is now in some doubt.

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