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Leadership challenge ‘on the cards’ after PM suffers largest rebellion

A senior Tory said if the PM did not make changes, many would think it was time for a change.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Adrian Dennis/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Adrian Dennis/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Adrian Dennis/PA)

A leadership challenge against the Prime Minister has “got to be on the cards” in the new year, a senior Tory has warned, after Boris Johnson suffered the largest rebellion of his premiership in the Commons.

Nearly 100 Conservative MPs defied the whip to vote against the introduction of mandatory Covid passes to access nightclubs and large venues.

The measures will still go ahead thanks to support from Labour.

But the rebellion of 97 of his own MPs, hours after the PM made a last-ditch appeal to the 1922 Committee, will be seen as a sign of the anger being levelled against No 10.

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People queuing for booster jabs at St Thomas’ Hospital, London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

People queuing for booster jabs at St Thomas’ Hospital, London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

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People queuing for booster jabs at St Thomas’ Hospital, London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee, said the PM must now realise that he needs to consult MPs before bringing measures to the Commons, and that some members of the party would be thinking it was time for a change.

Speaking to Sky News, he said he was “very surprised” by the size of the rebellion, adding it “shows quite a major division within the party”.

He said: “I think now the Prime Minister’s really got to think very carefully about how he’s going to reset his performance, to actually govern with a united party because we will know what happens to disunited parties.”

Asked whether there was now the prospect of a leadership challenge in the new year if the PM did not change his approach, Sir Geoffrey said: “I think that’s got to be on the cards. He’s got to realise that he’s got to change.”

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Result of the House of Commons vote on Covid passes for selected venues in England. Infographic from PA Graphics.

Result of the House of Commons vote on Covid passes for selected venues in England. Infographic from PA Graphics.

Press Association Images

Result of the House of Commons vote on Covid passes for selected venues in England. Infographic from PA Graphics.

While Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was a “very significant blow to the already damaged authority of the Prime Minister” who he said was now “too weak to discharge the basic functions of Government”.

He stopped short of explicitly calling for Mr Johnson to resign, but said: “The Prime Minister needs to take a long, hard look at himself and ask himself whether he has the authority to take this country through the pandemic.”

He added: “I think it’s very important to understand how deep the breach of trust is between the Prime Minister and his own party.”

Other measures under the Government’s Plan B also cleared the Commons, including to drop the requirement to isolate and instead do daily Covid tests for those fully vaccinated people who are contacts of a positive Covid case.

MPs also approved mandatory vaccinations for NHS and social care staff by April 2022 and the requirement to wear face coverings to more indoor spaces in England – including museums and galleries.

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The NHS app, used to show a person’s vaccination status and Covid Pass (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The NHS app, used to show a person’s vaccination status and Covid Pass (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

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The NHS app, used to show a person’s vaccination status and Covid Pass (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Some 369 MPs backed the move to introduce Covid passes – which have also been known as vaccine passports – in large venues, giving a majority of 243.

But the division list showed 96 Conservative MPs voted against.

Two Tory MPs also acted as tellers for the noes.

Eight Labour MPs, 10 Liberal Democrats, six DUP, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Independent MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Rob Roberts also opposed the regulations, according to the list.

The measures will mean people will have to prove that they are either fully vaccinated or have had a recent negative coronavirus test before they can go to nightclubs and large venues.

Under the regulations, venues could be fined up to £10,000 for failing to check passes, while the faking of a pass could also attract the same penalty.

Before Tuesday, the biggest rebellion Mr Johnson had faced was in December 2020, against the strengthening of Covid-19 tier restrictions in England.

I think the size of that vote is a reflection of the shattered authority of Boris JohnsonWes Streeting

Then, a total of 55 Conservative MPs voted against the Government. This includes the two MPs who acted as tellers for the noes.

The list of those who voted against included the newest Tory MP Louie French, who was elected in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election and has been in the Commons for less than two weeks.

He said: “I made a clear pre-election pledge that I would not support Covid passes for our domestic economy and voted accordingly.”

While former Tory chief whip and leading rebel Mark Harper said the Government needed to listen to the message from MPs.

“A significant number of Conservative colleagues like this voting against the Government sends a clear message and I hope that message is listened to and acted on,” he told Sky News.

“This clearly isn’t a good night for ministers or for the Government. You either listen and you respond and you do things differently or you ignore what you have been told and you plough on regardless and then this will happen over and over again.

“That choice is for the Prime Minister. I hope he makes the right choice, changes how the Government operates. We can do things better and I very much hope that we do.”

And even those who backed the Government suggested loyal MPs may not back Mr Johnson if he tried to bring in further restrictions.

Joy Morrissey, who said she was convinced to vote with the Government after it was confirmed a negative lateral flow test could be used for the pass, said it was “this and no further” for the Conservative party.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said that Mr Johnson’s authority was “shattered”.

He told Sky News: “That is an extraordinary, extraordinary rebellion. The Government has lost its majority. I think the size of that vote is a reflection of the shattered authority of Boris Johnson.

“He is undermining public health at a critical moment for our country. I think he has got to ask himself if he is the right man to lead our country through the next phase of the pandemic.”

Earlier, Mr Johnson had addressed the 1922 Committee to try and convince them to back his plans.

And he had been individually speaking to those who had publicly said they would oppose the measure earlier in the day.

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