Will Tory Rebellion Over 'Omicron Emergency' Rules Cost BoJo Prime Ministership?
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing growing resistance from Tory MPs over the introduction of new rules to tackle the tidal wave of the Omicron variant of coronavirus. The rebellion might deal a substantial blow to No 10 and BoJo's premiership in the long run, warn UK academics Dr Martin Farr and Wyn Grant.
The UK House of Commons opened debates on 14 December over PM Johnson's "Plan B" to tackle the pandemic. The prime minister delivered an address to the nation on Sunday night where he declared an "Omicron emergency". In his speech, he stressed that booster jabs would be offered to everyone over 18 in England starting Monday, 13 December, amid surging cases of the new strain. As of Monday, ten people in England were in hospital with Omicron and at least one person in Britain has died from the new COVID variant, according to the BBC.
Tories Outraged Over Johnson's Omicron Measures
The British prime minister proposed new anti-coronavirus rules including booster jabs, an enhanced use of the NHS COVID Pass to confirm one's coronavirus status, mandatory face coverings in most indoor public venues, and work-from-home recommendations among other measures.
Yet, dozens of Tories rebelled over BoJo's proposals: "The initial evidence on Omicron does not support the measures announced", tweeted Conservative MP Mark Harper. "The protection from vaccines against serious disease and hospitalisation remains strong".
"I am unequivocally pro-vaccine but vaccine passports and compulsion are not acceptable in a free society and counterproductive for confidence in vaccines and public health", Tory MP Marcus Fysh earlier tweeted
. "I will vote against them".
Speaking to the BBC over the weekend, former Brexit Minister Steve Baker argued that the PM's measures are "wrong" and "disproportionate", adding that "there is insufficient evidence that they are necessary".
14 December 2021, 11:36 GMT
PM's Rules Will Be Passed in Parliament But Resentment is Growing
Even though roughly 70 Tory MPs are expected to vote against some new rules, the Labour Party is eager to support the restrictions, according to Dr Martin Farr, a senior lecturer of contemporary British history at Newcastle University. The opposition party believes that "it's more important to follow medical evidence than to create a defeat for the government", Farr remarks.
At the same time, "for a government to have its measures passed because of the opposition parties supporting it when its own MP won't, looks very bad", according to the academic.
"[It] will further create problems within the Conservative Party, which is in turmoil because of the last couple of months and the prime minister's mismanagement of parliamentary affairs", Farr explains. "And it also feeds into the fact that because of the government's mismanagement, the MPs think that the public will be less likely to want to follow further restrictions than they would have been in the past, although the evidence suggests the public supports these measures. So in parliamentary terms and political terms, it is very difficult for the prime minister".
A rebellion of this size is "a substantial blow to Johnson's standing and that of the government", echoes Wyn Grant, professor of politics at the University of Warwick.
Johnson's political conduct has been triggering growing concerns among his party fellows
over the last two months. The government's attempt to shield Tory MP Owen Paterson in a sleaze scandal, BoJo's "shambolic" speech to the CBI
where Johnson spoke of his trip to Peppa Pig World and plummeting polls are seemingly unnerving Britain's Tories.
14 December 2021, 06:10 GMT
Will BoJo Lead Tories Into the 2023 Elections?
It is unlikely that the "Omicron emergency" will spell an end to Johnson's days as PM in the near term, according to the observers.
"I don't think that there is an immediate pressure on him to resign in the middle of the Omicron crisis", says Grant, not ruling out that Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, or Priti Patel might replace Johnson in the event of a contest.
There appears to be no way that he would resign unless he was challenged and defeated
in a leadership election, which happened to Theresa May, argues Farr. At the same time, the academic notes that Conservatives are divided as to whether Johnson should be leading their party into the 2023 election.
"The events of the last few months have made it less likely, but still it depends on polls, how he's polling with the public", Farr notes. "It depends on the by-election in North Shropshire on Thursday".
For the next two weeks the prime minister will be "safe" as there will be no politics or news due to the Christmas holidays, the academic says, adding, however, it's difficult to predict what the future has in store for BoJo.
"[MPs] will return in the New Year and there could be an Omicron explosion", Farr says. "There could be cause for further lockdowns. He will get the measures through parliament, but he's clearly upsetting his own MPs, and they're the people who ultimately will determine whether or not he leads the party into the next election".