Boris Johnson has suffered a large Tory rebellion in the House of Commons as members of his party refused to vote in favour of the three-tier coronavirus system that will replace the national lockdown in England from tomorrow.
The proposals passed as expected despite the level of dissent from within the Conservative Party. With Labour MPs whipped by the leadership to abstain on the vote, 291 MPs in total voted in favour and 78 against the new rules.
54 Tory MPs opposed the plans tonight, which makes for Johnson’s biggest rebellion since the general election. The previous largest was over the 10pm curfew, opposed by 44 Tories. 23 Labour MPs also voted against it.
15 Labour MPs also broke their party whip by voting against the proposals tonight, plus Jeremy Corbyn who has not had the whip restored. Some opposed on the basis of wanting a ‘zero Covid’ strategy; others due to lack of financial aid.
During the parliamentary debate ahead of the key vote on new Covid-19 regulations, lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs stressed that the restrictions would have a further negative impact on the economy, education, mental health and more.
One of Johnson’s backbenchers said the “stab at an impact assessment” this week had “all the hallmarks of an essay crisis”. The cost-benefit analysis released on Monday was criticised for containing little new or detailed information.
Tory rebels were not won over by the document, nor the promise of regular tier reviews, nor the fresh announcement of a one-off £1,000 payment to “wet-led” pubs that predominantly serve alcohol rather than food.
Labour said the last-minute payment would “leave the vast majority seriously struggling” and fall “well short of the emergency cash offered during the first national lockdown”, hitting businesses in the North and Midlands particularly hard.
Johnson criticised the opposition party for “heroically” deciding to abstain on the vote, calling the move “extraordinary”. He told MPs that the country needed to “hold our nerve” and wait until the vaccines are “in our grasp” in the coming months.
But Keir Starmer countered in his speech that the Prime Minister “pretends that the restrictions might not be in place for long” despite knowing that “tough restrictions will be needed until a vaccine is rolled out – and that may be months away”.
The Labour leader said: “We recognise the need for continued restrictions. It would not be in the national interest to vote against these restrictions today. So we will allow the regulations to pass. But this is another wasted opportunity.
“The PM could have spent the last four weeks fixing track and trace, putting in place the support people need to isolate, building the economic package our great towns and cities need to protect jobs and people’s income, and restoring public confidence.
“Instead, we see more short-termism. A PM stuck between his backbenchers and the national interest. And I fear that just won’t work.” Starmer explained that Labour would abstain because the “business and economic support just doesn’t stack up”.
During the debate, Labour backbencher Chris Bryant warned Tory MPs: “I bet you not a single area will go from Tier 2 to Tier 1 before Christmas, simply because Tier 2 doesn’t work. It doesn’t bring the numbers down.”
Labour frontbencher Toby Perkins said: “The fact that the Prime Minister had to come here today armed with an assurance that the thing we’re voting on today is going to be changed in a couple of weeks should tell him that he’s got it wrong.”
Matt Hancock closed the debate with an emotional speech revealing that his step-grandfather died of Covid-19 last month. He told MPs: “People don’t live with Covid. People can’t learn to live with Covid. People die with Covid.”
Below is the full list of Labour rebels who voted against the regulations.
Mary Kelly Foy
Plus: Jeremy Corbyn