Boris Johnson could face a Commons revolt from his own backbench MPs when Covid Plan B measures are voted on next week.
Conservative politicians have reacted furiously to the announcement of tougher new restrictions in England, with senior MPs questioning whether the Government has the credibility to do so.
It comes as the Downing Street Christmas Party story has continued to make headlines, despite the Prime Minister’s pledge of an internal investigation and the resignation of former aide Allegra Stratton.
Overnight, the Conservative Party was forced to apologise after The Times revealed a separate illicit Christmas bash had taken place inside the party’s headquarters last December.
New Covid restrictions introduced
Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday (9 December) that work-from-home guidance will return, Covid health certificates are to become mandatory in large venues and mask rules will be extended.
He said these measures were necessary given the quickening spread of the Omicron Covid variant and insisted they were nothing to do with the Christmas party row.
But despite introducing these tougher rules, Mr Johnson also said Christmas parties and nativities should still go ahead.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Thursday (9 December), Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this apparent contradiction in the rules was part of a “proportionate response” that was “striking the right balance” between restrictions and freedoms.
Mr Javid had been heckled the previous evening while announcing the Plan B restrictions in the Commons.
Tory MP William Wragg, who had accused the PM at Prime Minister’s Questions of using the new Covid measures to divert attention away from the Christmas party row, shouted “resign” as Mr Javid made his speech.
Asked on BBC Breakfast why the public should trust the Government in light of the December 2020 events, the Health Secretary said he had received assurances “from important people” that no party had taken place and no rules had been broken.
Potential Covid Plan B Commons revolt
Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said the Downing Street party saga had undermined the Boris Johnson administration’s authority.
“What I am really concerned about is that it is unquestionably the case that over the last few weeks the Government’s credibility, whether it is on [Owen] Paterson or on the Christmas parties, has taken a hit,” Mr Harper said.
“Why should people at home listening to the Prime Minster and the Secretary of State do things that people working in Number 10 Downing Street are not prepared to do?”
Mr Harper leads the influential Covid Recovery Group of backbench MPs who have consistently opposed restrictions on public freedoms since the second national Covid-19 lockdown in November 2020.
Fellow Conservative MP Ben Bradley was the first to rule out voting for Plan B when it is expected to go before the Commons next Tuesday (14 December).
He described vaccine passports as “discriminatory”.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston show, former Brexit minister David Davis questioned, “how are you going to prosecute people who don’t obey it given the four previous parties?
“I think the real issue is on the authority of the Government to enforce a, as it were, a new lockdown because people look at this and say why should we? It’s them and us again,” Mr Davis said.
Mr Javid has said that Plan B Covid restrictions would be reviewed on 5 January 2022 and would automatically lapse three weeks later on 26 January.
Conservative Party apologises for 2020 HQ Xmas party
It comes as the Conservative Party was forced to apologise for a separate Christmas party it held at its headquarters in December 2020.
On 14 December, while London was under tier two restrictions which prevented indoor mixing between households, an event organised by Shaun Bailey’s mayoral campaign took place at the party’s Whitehall HQ.
Described as “raucous”, the bash was attended by No. 10 aides and featured dancing and wine-drinking into the early hours.
A Tory spokesman said: “Senior CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) staff became aware of an unauthorised social gathering in the basement of Matthew Parker Street organised by the Bailey campaign on the evening of December 14.
“Formal disciplinary action was taken against the four CCHQ staff who were seconded to the Bailey campaign.”
Additional reporting by PA