Johnson Will Find Out Size of Tory Rebellion in Lockdown Vote

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is poised to sacrifice political capital in order to get Parliament to agree to a month-long partial lockdown of England from midnight on Thursday. While not as a strict as the shutdown in spring, businesses are unhappy and the suggestion of a extension if the virus is still out of control has fueled a rebellion in his ruling Conservative Party.

When is the vote and why is it controversial?

On Wednesday evening, in the House of Commons, mere hours before the new restrictions are due to go into effect. Some Tory members of Parliament, dissatisfied with the chaotic handling of the COVID-19 crisis, see this as further evidence the government has failed to get a grip on the situation. They also suspect that the government could try to extend it beyond Dec. 2 end date and disrupt the Christmas holidays, a move that would make them unpopular with voters. That would require a fresh vote.

Will all MPs vote?

The principle of “English votes for English laws” was suspended by Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg during the pandemic to simplify the passage of legislation. While Conservatives in Scotland will not vote on Wednesday, as it is an England-only matter, Labour’s Scottish and Welsh MPs will. Labour has been calling for a nationwide lockdown for weeks. The Scottish National Party has not yet indicated how it will vote.

Will Johnson lose the vote?

No, he would need a rebellion of around 280 of his 364 Conservative MPs to vote against him. Some will instead abstain to show their opposition to the measure and leave Johnson relying on Labour votes, which would be an embarrassment for him. The Tories gave a signal on the scale of backbench disquiet about the effects of government measures to curb coronavirus on Oct. 12 when 42 of them voted against a series of restrictions, including the introduction of a 10 p.m. curfew for pubs in England.

What will the vote cost Johnson politically?

Labour’s Keir Starmer has been calling for a nationwide lockdown for several weeks, giving Johnson’s decision to move away from localized lockdowns the appearance of a government in reactive mode. Combined with an increased bill for the public finances and inevitable job losses, his own party is becoming increasingly fractious and difficult to manage. That will have a knock-on effect on decisions Johnson takes, or tries to take, in the near future. Rumors swirl of Johnson being a one-term premier, even with the next election not until 2024.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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