Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Conservatives
14 December 2021

The Tory rebellion over new Covid measures shows how weak Boris Johnson has become

Today’s vote will mark a decisive split between the government and MPs on Covid-19.

By Ailbhe Rea

Boris Johnson is likely to face a backbench rebellion larger than his parliamentary majority when the House of Commons votes on new measures to tackle the Omicron variant of coronavirus later today.

Conservative MPs – an estimated 70 but possibly as many as 80 – from across the party are poised to vote against the government over the introduction of a “Covid pass”, a new requirement in England to provide proof of either double vaccination or a negative coronavirus test before entry to a nightclub, an indoor event of 500 or an outdoor event of 4,000. 

Many Conservative MPs are worried about the “slow creep” of ever more draconian restrictions to protect against coronavirus, but the “vaccine passport” plan, even with negative Covid tests permitted, is the real sting. For many Tory MPs, the measure defies belief in allowing individuals to make the best decisions about their health and the health of others, representing what they see as an intrusion into the everyday life of citizens that is unjustified by evidence. 

And it is on the question of evidence for vaccine passports that Conservative rebels find common cause, quite unexpectedly, with the Liberal Democrats, who oppose the plan because requiring proof of double vaccination hasn’t proven as effective at curtailing coronavirus outbreaks as requiring negative lateral flow tests at mass gatherings. 

The reason the Tory rebellion is so big is precisely because it comes at no cost. With Labour support for the new measures guaranteed, they will inevitably pass, allowing Conservative MPs to signal their practical and ideological opposition to Covid passes without preventing the government from acting. 

The rebellion today is a perfect storm of longstanding resistance to the government’s approach to coronavirus, combined with a new collapse of confidence from backbenchers in the direction set by Downing Street. It doesn’t matter in the immediate term but it does in the longer term. The vote today marks a decisive break between the Conservative parliamentary party and the government on coronavirus, just as a new variant takes hold, and a new low for Boris Johnson as his grip on his party becomes weaker and weaker.

[See also: We all know what Boris Johnson’s emergency address was really about – and it wasn’t Covid boosters]

Content from our partners
How to navigate the modern cyber-threat landscape
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis
Data on cloud will change the way you interact with the government
Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.