British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended himself against attacks on his aptitude to lead on Wednesday, after nearly 100 of his own MPs broke ranks and rebelled against his new coronavirus restrictions.
The Johnson administration tried to downplay what was the largest parliamentary vote against his administration by lawmakers from his own party the day before, and one minister said it was not surprising that there were different views on the restrictions of Covid-19, described as draconian by many conservatives. .
Nearly 100 conservative lawmakers voted Tuesday against the new coronavirus restrictions, dealing a major blow to Johnson’s authority and raising questions about his leadership.
The British leader noted that the restriction measures were passed, implemented in response to the new Omicron variant and that they include ordering people to wear masks in public places and using vaccination certificates or a negative test for some places.
But the opposition Labor Party was quick to point out that they were only approved by their own votes. Labor leader Keir Starmer accused Johnson in parliament of being “the worst possible prime minister at the worst possible time” and that he was “too weak to lead.”
It comes as Britain recorded a record 78,610 laboratory-confirmed Covid cases, and scientists’ predictions of even higher rates in the future.
‘Balanced and proportionate’ approach
In an irritating session in Parliament, Starmer said Johnson’s “own MPs have had enough. They will not stand up for him. They will not appear to support him. They will not vote for basic public health measures,” he said.
Johnson, who warned that an Omicron “tidal wave” could overwhelm health services, said he understood the “legitimate anxieties” of his fellow conservatives.
But he denied the infringed changes to personal freedoms, adding: “I think the approach we are taking is balanced, proportionate and correct for this country.”
And at a press conference, he vowed to go ahead with an ambitious booster jab program to try and stop the spread of Omicron. “I am not going to change the policies,” he said.
Johnson will be well aware of the implications of such a supportive hemorrhage. His predecessor, Theresa May, resigned after Tory MPs forced an internal vote of no confidence in her leadership.
Conservative lawmakers indicated that they were not yet at that stage.
But Mark Harper, May’s former executor in Parliament, told Times Radio that it was “a very clear message that colleagues are not happy” with the government.
Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said Johnson, who assured the party an 80-seat majority in the last general election, needed to hear or face a leadership challenge.
The rebellion could not have come at a worse time, as the party has been battered in recent weeks by a series of scandals.
But it could get worse if they lose a by-election in the safe seat of North Shropshire in central England on Thursday.
Many people in the constituency said they would vote on Johnson’s recent record, just two years after his landslide general election victory in a “Get Brexit” pledge.
“This man is not fit to be prime minister,” voter Garry Churchill, 71, told AFP. “I can’t imagine why people would vote for the Conservative candidate in this by-election.”
The by-election was prompted by the resignation of Conservative MP Owen Paterson for violations of parliamentary lobbying rules.
‘Cry of pain’
Johnson caused outrage by trying to change Parliament’s disciplinary procedure to spare Paterson a 30-day suspension and was forced to make an embarrassing U-turn.
He also faces accusations of unreliable deals after an electoral watchdog fined Conservatives for failing to declare who paid for a lavish decoration for his official apartment.
That compounded allegations of cronyism following reports that wealthy party donors won seats in the Upper House of Lords.
Yet Johnson’s overall handling of the government’s response to fighting successive waves of coronavirus variants has come under the most scrutiny.
Public health messages and compliance have been undermined by claims that government personnel held parties last Christmas, despite telling the public to cancel theirs.
But Johnson, who ordered an internal investigation into the matter, told reporters that the events had been “mischaracterized.”
For many conservatives, the new measures against Omicron, particularly vaccination passes for nightclubs and sports venues, were a step too far.
Charles Walker of the powerful 1922 Conservative Parliamentary Committee said his colleagues were “setting a marker” by voting against the government.
“It was a cry of pain from the Conservative Party,” he told the BBC.
( Jowhar with AFP and REUTERS)