Two Labour frontbenchers have quit their posts tonight to defy their party whip by voting against the introduction of mandatory NHS Covid passes in certain settings and of mandatory vaccines for NHS workers.
22 Labour MPs in total voted against the extending the Covid vaccine requirement beyond those working in care homes to health and other social care settings, while eight Labour MPs voted against compulsory NHS Covid passes.
Former NHS clinician Rachael Maskell gave up her shadow ministerial post in Labour’s digital, culture, media and sport team to oppose mandatory vaccines. “It has the contrary effect to which it is intended and therefore it is wrong,” she said.
“The people that we revered – just a year ago, we were clapping and calling our heroes – are the very people who are now exhausted, traumatised and frightened. And this legislation before us will sack them.” 62,000 will lose their jobs, she said.
Labour frontbencher Mick Whitley also gave up his role as parliamentary private secretary to Shadow Secretary of State of Climate Change and Net Zero Ed Miliband.
61 Conservatives rebelled, voting against mandatory vaccinations for NHS staff, as did 22 Labour MPs. The Labour MPs were: Paula Barker, Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Ian Byrne, Margaret Greenwood, Rupa Huq, Kim Johnson, Ian Lavery, Emma Lewell-Buck, Clive Lewis, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Rachael Maskell, Andy McDonald, Ian Mearns, Grahame Morris, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Zarah Sultana, Mick Whitley, Beth Winter, John McDonnell and Mohammed Yasin.
Labour MPs including Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Andy McDonald, Kim Johnson and Clive Efford raised concerns over compulsory jabs during the debate, saying they shared the objections of trade unions including Labour-affiliated organisations.
Although Labour does not support mandatory vaccinations for the whole population, the party has been convinced of the case for mandatory vaccinations for NHS workers due to the Omicron variant that is spreading quickly.
“I want to make it crystal clear that we do not support mandatory vaccinations in general,” Wes Streeting said. But he confirmed that Labour does now support mandatory vaccinations for NHS and care workers, despite opposing the move for care home staff earlier in the year.
The new Shadow Health Secretary explained to the House of Commons: “The NHS has asked us for this, patients want this, and we are persuaded that the threat of Omicron makes it even more important for staff to be vaccinated.”
Streeting argued that there is a precedent for requiring NHS staff to be have certain vaccines and that the April deadline for workers to get their Covid vaccine offers “sufficient time” to implement the plan “without seeing an exodus of staff”.
But not all Labour MPs were convinced. “I find myself really torn on this emotive subject,” Paula Barker said during the debate. She highlighted that although healthcare staff doing certain procedures do need to have the Hepatitis B vaccine, this is not law.
The Liverpool Wavertree MP, a former regional convenor for UNISON, had asked Sajid Javid on Monday to consider pausing his compulsory vaccines plan. Despite objections from across the House of Commons, he refused to do so.
Kim Johnson, also a UNISON MP on the left of the Labour Party, intervened in the debate to draw attention to the “chronically understaffed NHS”. She suggested mandatory vaccines could do “more harm than good”.
Andy McDonald, a former shadow cabinet member, told MPs that 97% of the staff in his local NHS trust have been “properly vaccinated” and many of those 3% unvaccinated are “new starters”. He argued for “persuasion” over “coercion”.
Graham Stringer, who voted against a stricter lockdown in the North West of England in October last year, revealed that he would also defy the Labour whip during a speech generally criticising the government’s approach to Covid.
Sajid Javid declared today that 94,000 NHS staff are still unvaccinated. He also pointed out that there were no care home closures as a result of the decision to make Covid vaccines compulsory for care home staff from November.