Johnson faces biggest backbench revolt over Covid measures

More than 70 Tory MPs threatening to vote against government over new restrictions

Boris Johnson faces the biggest backbench rebellion of his premiership on Tuesday with more than 70 Conservative MPs threatening to vote against new coronavirus measures. But the prime minister refused to rule out introducing further restrictions, promising to take whatever measures were necessary following the first recorded death in Britain of someone infected with the Omicron variant.

“I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognise the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population,” he said.

Mr Johnson promised on Sunday that every eligible adult in England would be offered a booster vaccination by the end of this month but the National Health Service (NHS) struggled to cope with demand on Monday. Long queues formed outside vaccination centres in London, Manchester and other English cities as the online booking system was overwhelmed.

Lateral flow testing kits for use at home, which are provided free by the NHS, were also unavailable on Monday but health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that there was no shortage of the kits.


Mr Johnson on Monday night called for tens of thousands of volunteers to help with the NHS booster vaccination campaign as vaccinators, stewards and in other roles.

“Many thousands have already given their time – but we need you to come forward again, to work alongside our brilliant GPs, doctors, nurses and pharmacists, to deliver jabs and save lives,” he said.

Hostile reception

The NHS plans to open hundreds of vaccination sites in football stadiums, shopping centres and racecourses in addition to almost 3,000 currently in operation.

Mr Javid received a hostile reception from Conservative MPs when he made a statement in the House of Commons about the new restrictions, known as Plan B. They include compulsory face coverings in most indoor settings except for bars and restaurants, advice to work from home and the introduction of vaccine passports for entry into nightclubs and indoor venues catering for more than 500 people.

More than 70 Conservative MPs have expressed opposition to the plans but the backbench rebellion will not block the new measures because Labour leader Keir Starmer has promised that his MPs will support them.

“As leader of her majesty’s opposition, it is my solemn duty to challenge the government where necessary. The health, safety and security of our nation and its people must always be the first priority,” he said in a televised address.

“That’s why we will always support measures designed to protect public health. That includes the measures in Plan B. We are a patriotic party. And it is our patriotic duty to vote for these measures to ensure that they go through. In doing so, we are supporting the NHS and supporting our country. But rest assured, I will still hold the government to account in the coming weeks. That is also in the national interest.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times