The scandal-ridden Boris Johnson government defended its new restrictions on the omicron on Tuesday, ahead of a high-stakes vote in Parliament where dozens of irate Conservative MPs could rebel against a weakened prime minister.
Johnson announced measures last week to limit the spread of the new variant of the coronavirus, which is advancing at high speed in the United Kingdom, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic with some 146,500 deaths.
According to his government, they are necessary to ensure that hospitals are not overtaken again in the coming weeks.
“These measures are balanced and proportionate”, defended the Minister of Health, Sajid Javid, assuring the deputies that “we will not maintain them for one day longer than necessary”, when opening the parliamentary debate.
The legislators then began almost five hours of heated discussions, before voting at 6:30 p.m. (local time and GMT) on each of the four measures: wearing masks indoors, daily tests for contact cases, health passports at mass events. and mandatory vaccination for hospital staff.
They are rules that do not convince many conservative MPs, such as former Brexit minister Steve Baker, who described them as “wrong” and “disproportionate”, considering that “there is insufficient evidence that they are necessary.”
Some 60 threaten to rebel although each measure will be voted on separately and the results may vary.
Meanwhile in Scotland, whose regional autonomous government decides health standards, Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon also warned of the advance of the virus, specifying that two people with omicrons have already been hospitalized.
“We are not asking them to cancel or change their plans for Christmas,” he said, but asked the Scots to “limit their social interactions indoors” to no more than three core households.
Cronyism and corruption
With its vast majority in Parliament – 80 seats – and the help of the opposition, the British government must manage to pass the measures, but this revolt comes at a very bad time for Johnson.
Two years after his historic election victory with the promise of Brexit, the prime minister is seeing his popularity plummet and has faced numerous calls for his resignation since last week, in the wake of a series of scandals.
On Sunday, the Sunday Mirror newspaper published a photo of him participating in an online contest in Downing Street, surrounded by collaborators, in December 2020, when the British were required to severely limit their social interactions.
The British also blame him for a party that was allegedly held in Downing Street on December 18, 2020, when they themselves were deprived of Christmas celebrations because of the coronavirus.
A leaked video of Johnson’s aides joking about the alleged illegal Christmas party added fuel to the fire.
“Relentless to drive out their leaders”
These revelations also add to a series of corruption allegations that could lead to a motion of no confidence against Johnson by the Conservative Party.
The prime minister was called to order on Thursday over the costly renovation of his official Downing Street residence, with his party fined £ 16,250 ($ 21,500, € 19,000) for failing to declare the full amount of the private donation received for finance the works.
Johnson also caused outrage by trying to change parliamentary rules to help a Conservative MP, Owen Paterson, convicted of pressuring members of the government to defend two companies for which he was acting as a paid consultant.
On Thursday, partial legislative sessions are held in England to fill the seat of Paterson, who resigned, and these will be highly symbolic.
According to political columnist Robin Pettitt, Johnson – a former London mayor and journalist known for his unconventional style – talent for political escapism may allow him to avoid a scandal or two.
But if the accumulation continues, “the conservative party has always been very implacable when it comes to throwing out leaders who do not work,” says this expert to AFP.
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