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PM moves to quell rebellion ahead of Plan B votes

Boris Johnson addressed the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs on Tuesday.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Stow Health Vaccination centre in Westminster (Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Stow Health Vaccination centre in Westminster (Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Stow Health Vaccination centre in Westminster (Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard/PA)

Boris Johnson is reported to have told Tory MPs there is “no choice” but to implement Plan B as he hopes to quell a rebellion within his own ranks.

The Prime Minister faces the possibility of the biggest revolt of his leadership on Tuesday over the measures proposed to stem the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Mr Johnson made a last-gasp attempt to win round his backbenchers as he addressed the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs shortly before the Commons vote.

Mr Johnson was reported to have told his MPs, dozens of whom have said they would vote against the Government, that “we have absolutely no choice” to introduce the “sensible and balanced” measures.

And that he wanted the country to be “as free as we can possibly be”.

The PM is reported to have said he believes the country can get through the current spike, when asked about the prospect of further measures being introduced.

And he reportedly was petitioned by MPs to allow them to have their say in Parliament if further measures were to be introduced over Christmas.

One former minister said his speech “calmed a lot of nerves”.

The rapid spread of Omicron was also a factor in winning over some Tories, the source said.

The former minister said: “What a lot of people are starting to see is how it is affecting their own constituencies and own families.

“It’s not a theoretical thing, it’s become a real thing.”

With Tories particularly angered by the mandatory introduction of Covid health certificates for large venues, Mr Johnson was also believed to be holding talks with individuals who were preparing to vote against or abstain on the restrictions.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Mr Johnson also increased his warnings over the rapidly spreading new strain of Covid, telling a virtual Cabinet meeting a “huge spike of Omicron was coming”.

There were indications that his efforts may be succeeding, with one ringleader, Steve Baker, saying: “I’m told numbers are dwindling.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab argued the mandatory use of Covid passes for entry to nightclubs and large venues in England was not a “big step or a slippery slope”.

He rejected MPs’ concerns about so-called “vaccine passports” because people would also be able to show a negative lateral flow test to gain entry to venues.

More than 70 Tories have expressed concerns about the Covid pass proposals – due to come into effect on Wednesday – with claims they are illogical and illiberal.

After talks with the Prime Minister on Tuesday morning, one ministerial aide among those on resignation watch as he considered voting against Plan B said he would support the measures despite “big misgivings”.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Danny Kruger, a parliamentary private secretary to Cabinet member Michael Gove, said he would only back the measures “thus far and no further”.

But others maintained in the Commons that they would vote against the Government.

Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper urged MPs to vote against the proposed measures to introduce vaccine passes for venues and events, saying it would send a “clear signal” to the Government to “rethink its approach”.

The former chief whip said: “They are very limited at the moment about what is proposed, but that was true everywhere they were introduced around the world. Everywhere they have been introduced, they have extended it, in terms of the venues they apply to.

“Anyone who thinks that they are going to stick to what is currently on the order paper, I am afraid are kidding themselves.”

Fellow Conservative MP Steve Brine added: “On the vaccine passport, I will not support that. I think it crosses a Rubicon. I think Italy began in exactly this way saying it was all about providing lateral flow tests, and I think it will move and move quite quickly”.

Leadership is about taking people to where perhaps they didn’t realise they needed to go, but they must understand the plan, and this is illogical at the momentTobias Ellwood

Conservative former minister Dame Andrea Leadsom said the regulations were a “slippery slope which I do not want to slip”, also telling MPs: “Our Covid measures have and continue to hurt our citizens.

And Dr Luke Evans said he could not support Covid passes, telling the Commons: “I worry about the slippery slope. What businesses, what society interactions or what infections may become in scope in future months or future years?”

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs: “I think it is absolutely vital there is always an option for lateral flow tests, and I would not support a vaccine-only option.”

And the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was his “understanding” that the idea of vaccine-only passes – as included in the Government’s original Plan B – had now been abandoned.

In a sign that unease about restrictions extends to the Cabinet, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg used his ConservativeHome podcast to warn: “You have to learn to live with Covid in the end. We cannot switch the economy off and on every few months.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman responded that it is “not our intention” to shut down the economy but “we are responding to this variant which has some very concerning characteristics and we know spreads much, much faster than any variant we have seen before and that has the risk of overwhelming our NHS”.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Tuesday’s vote will be a test of the Prime Minister’s authority at a time when he is battling claims of rule-breaking in Downing Street during the winter 2020 lockdown, and facing the prospect of a tough by-election in North Shropshire following the Owen Paterson sleaze row.

The strong emotions on the Tory benches led one MP, Marcus Fysh, to compare the introduction of Covid passes to Hitler’s Nazi regime.

“We are not a ‘papers please’ society. This is not Nazi Germany,” the MP said on Monday.

The comments were condemned by Mr Raab, whose Jewish father fled Czechoslovakia in 1938.

The Deputy Prime Minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I don’t think comparing what we are trying to achieve to an authoritarian or Nazi regime is quite right.

“I think a lot of people find that crass.”

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