MPs back Covid passes in England despite huge Tory rebellion

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Watch: The moment MPs approved the introduction of a Covid pass in England

Boris Johnson has won backing for Covid passes in England, despite the biggest revolt by Tory MPs since he became PM.

A total of 99 Conservatives voted against the government, but the measure was passed by a majority of 243 thanks to Labour support.

So NHS Covid passes, showing a recent negative test or full vaccination, must be shown to get into many large venues, including nightclubs, from Wednesday.

MPs also voted to back compulsory face masks in most indoor settings.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Tory rebellion over Covid passes was a "very significant blow to the already damaged authority of the prime minister".

"It confirms that he's too weak to discharge the basic functions of government," he added.

Health minister Gillian Keegan admitted Conservative MPs had faced "difficult" decisions, still having received only "partial information" from scientists on the Omicron variant.

"We have decided that we need to buy time... We really do need to slow down this unbelievably transmittable virus," she added.

The Covid measures MPs voted for:

  • Making vaccinations compulsory for NHS workers in England
  • Over-18s in England must prove they are fully vaccinated or have a recent negative lateral flow test to enter a number of large venues, such as nightclubs, from Wednesday
  • Daily lateral flow tests for fully vaccinated people who come into contact with Covid cases, instead of isolation
  • Continue making face masks compulsory in a wider range of venues

Before the votes, the prime minister made a last-minute plea to his MPs to support the government's measures, outlined in its Plan B, designed to deal with an expected winter surge in coronavirus infections.

But Conservative backbenchers lined up during the Commons debate to criticise them.

After the Covid passes vote, one Tory rebel, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, said the scale of the revolt meant a leadership challenge to Mr Johnson had "got to be on the cards" next year.

Another, Sir Charles Walker, told the BBC that Tory MPs still backed the PM, but the rebellion was a "cry of pain" over the specific measure, which they viewed as an attack on personal freedoms that would not halt the spread of Covid.

There was also concern from the Night Time Industries Association, representing nightclubs, who said passes would "jeopardise the survival of businesses in 2022" and called for "urgent additional" financial support from the government.

The arrival of another Covid variant has, of course, prompted the government to act to try to protect the public's health.

If the Omicron outbreak is as enormous as the worst-case scenarios predict, much of the current political debate may be swamped, or indeed feel quickly irrelevant or self-indulgent.

But right now, Tory fears about the action ministers are taking are not just about the specifics of this debate but about what many perceive as a lack of thinking about whether we can live like this for ever.

Some 38 Tory MPs - and three DUP members - rebelled against the government over the face mask plan, which has already come into effect.

There was also a big Conservative rebellion - involving 63 MPs - over compulsory vaccinations for frontline NHS workers.

But, after the measure was passed by the Commons, GMB union national secretary Rehana Azam said: "We are opposed to legally enforced medical procedures as a condition of employment - it's heavy-handed and will deepen the health service's devastating staff black hole."

Scrapping self-isolation, in favour of daily lateral flow tests, for fully vaccinated people who come into contact with Covid cases, including Omicron, was passed unanimously without a vote.

Labour shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said his party backed the Plan B measures because they would "help us have a safer Christmas as well as to protect our NHS from being totally overwhelmed".

But eight of the party's MPs, including former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, plus former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who now sits as an independent, voted against Covid passes.

Labour's Rachael Maskell resigned as a shadow culture minister after opposing the measure.