Conservative revolt over COVID curbs deals stinging blow to UK PM Johnson

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Almost 100 Conservative lawmakers voted on Tuesday against new coronavirus restrictions, dealing with a major blow to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s authority and raising questions about his leadership.

After a day of frenzied failed lobbying, Johnson was handed the biggest rebellion against his government so far by his party over measures he said were necessary to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The new rules, which included ordering people to wear masks in public places and use COVID-19 passes for some venues, passed thanks largely to the main opposition Labour Party.

But the revolt piles pressure on Johnson, already under fire over scandals such as reported parties in his Downing Street office last year – when Britain was in a COVID-19 lockdown – and a pricey refurbishment of his apartment.

Rebelling lawmakers said the vote was a warning shot that he needed to change how the government was operating, or he would face a leadership challenge.

Some 99 Conservatives opposed plans for the COVID passes, a much higher number of rebels than was expected. Originally the official figure was put at 98, but the number was later revised upward.

Among those voting against the government was lawmaker Louie French who was only elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) at the start of the month, while media reported that former Prime Minister Theresa May was among 17 others who abstained.

Many Conservatives say some of the new measures are draconian, with several questioning the introduction of a certificate of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter some venues, such as nightclubs.

Others used the votes as an opportunity to vent their anger at Johnson, believing the man who helped the Conservatives win a large majority at a 2019 election is squandering the party’s successes by self-inflicted missteps and gaffes.