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Tory Rebels Waver On Plan B Rebellion As Omicron Threat Escalates

3 min read

Rising Covid case numbers and the threat of the Omicron variant have left some Conservative MPs questioning whether to go through with pledges to vote against enhanced covid restrictions.

More than 80 Tory backbenchers have been vocal in their opposition to the Covid certification element of "Plan B" measures, that will be voted on in the Commons this evening.

Under the new rule people would be required to present proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow test in order to access large events. Detractors believe this is an unacceptable imposition on civil liberties. 

But with thousands of cases of the new variant Omicron reported in the last 48 hours, and an estimated doubling time of two to three days there is increased concern that hospitals could become overwhelmed with Covid cases. The UK Health Security Agency estimates the true number of people currently being infected with Omicron each day is around 200,000 when those awaiting test results and unreported cases are taken into account.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has warned that it remains too early to confirm how severe the Omicron variant is, though a significant increase in hospitalisations is expected as cases increase.

At least one MP has now openly backtracked on plans to rebel in tonight’s vote.

Tory MP Danny Kruger said he has changed his mind and “decided to support the government, despite some big misgivings”.

There has been concern among those who oppose Covid certification and mandatory vaccination for NHS frontline staff that it would set a precedent for more government intervention of this sort in the future. 

“I don't believe that is where anyone in government wants to go,” Kruger wrote in a statement published on his website.

“I spoke to the Health Secretary last night and the Prime Minister this morning. Both stressed that these deliberately limited measures are intended to prevent another mandatory lockdown [and] that there will never be compulsory vaccination for any citizen, or vaccination as a condition of employment for anyone except health and care workers.

“On this basis – thus far and no further – I am happy to support the measures this evening”.

PoliticsHome understands that a number of Tory rebels who have publicly stated opposition to Covid certification are also considering now supporting the measures, or possibly abstaining rather than explicitly voting against.

According to Sky News, Boris Johnson has held face-to-face meetings with MPs in a last-ditch attempt to get more rebels on side, and is confident that more have now been persuaded to vote with the government. 

Conservative MP Steve Baker, a leading voice and campaigner against Covid restrictions, said that he believes the Tory rebellion is now smaller than it had seemed. 

“I'll be quite surprised if so many [rebels] actually vote no,” Baker wrote on Twitter. “Expect abstentions.”

This evening MPs will also vote on proposals to make face masks mandatory within public indoor spaces, enforce daily testing for Covid contacts to avoid compulsory isolation and make vaccinations mandatory for all frontline NHS staff.

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