U.K.’s Johnson Hit by Tory Revolt as Virus Restrictions Pass

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Boris Johnson won parliamentary backing to impose a round of fresh coronavirus restrictions across large parts of England -- but only after a major rebellion from members of his own party.

The prime minister won the vote on the new rules by 291 to 78 on Tuesday after the opposition Labour Party stood aside and abstained.

But 55 of his own Conservative colleagues voted against him -- the biggest Tory revolt he has suffered in a Commons vote since winning a majority of 80 in the election a year ago.

It leaves his political authority weakened at a key moment as the U.K. heads into a potentially fraught few months.

Ahead lies a winter of decisions about further restrictions on people’s movements and whether to raise taxes or cut spending to pay for the government’s response to the pandemic. Borrowing has already soared to almost 400 billion pounds ($537 billion). The risk for Johnson is that Tories who rebelled on Tuesday will be emboldened to do so again, potentially inflicting future defeats.

The crunch issue that sparked the revolt was core to Conservative Party values -- freedom and the health of the economy. Under Johnson’s plan, much of England will remain under stringent rules when the national lockdown expires on Wednesday. Millions of people will face limits on household mixing, meaning tens of thousands of pubs and restaurants will struggle as they are forced to close their doors.

“Freedom is not an absolute, but it should be regarded as precious,” Graham Brady, a senior Conservative told the House of Commons on Tuesday. “If government is to take away fundamental liberties of the people whom we represent, they must demonstrate beyond question that they’re acting in a way that is both proportionate and absolutely necessary,” he said as Johnson looked on. “I believe the government has failed to make that compelling case.”

The prime minister had earlier appealed to his colleagues to hold their nerve and back the restrictions until vaccines become widely available.

“The end is in sight,” Johnson said. “All we need to do now is to hold our nerve until the vaccines are indeed in our grasp and indeed being injected into our arms.”

MPs said the new three-tier restrictions are too harsh and risk damaging the economy. They also complained that areas with low rates of infection will be grouped together under the same strict rules as regions where the virus is still spreading.

The premier on Tuesday tried to assuage some of the concerns by announcing a program of one-time, 1,000-pound grants to help pubs that serve just drinks and no food. They will be required to close when the new restrictions come into force.

He also suggested he will consider reverting back to more localized restrictions when the rules are reviewed on Dec. 16.

“We will look in granular detail at local incidence, look at the human geography and take account of exactly what is happening every two weeks,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s New Regional Covid Rules for England

Under all Tiers

Everyone should work from home where they can.

Education and childcare open. Gyms and swimming pools open. Shops and hairdressers open.

Exceptions to household mixing rules for people in support bubbles.

Tier 1

Maximum of six people can meet indoors or outdoors.

Bars, pubs and restaurants table service only; last orders 10 p.m., close 11 p.m.

Entertainment venues open.

Accommodation open. Overnight stays allowed for up to six people.

Exercise classes and sport outdoors, but with maximum of six people indoors.

Travel advice: Walk, cycle.

Large events, sports and performances allowed but limited to 50% capacity, or maximum 4,000 people outdoors/1,000 indoors (whichever is lower).

Tier 2

No household mixing indoors. Maximum of six people outdoors.

Pubs, bars closed unless operating as restaurants. Alcohol only served with “substantial meals.” Last orders 10 p.m., close 11 p.m.

Entertainment open. Accommodation open.

Exercise classes and sport allowed outdoors, but indoors only if there’s no interaction between households.

Travel advice: Reduce journeys.

Large events, sports and performances allowed but limited to 50% capacity, or maximum 2,000 people outdoors/1,000 indoors (whichever is lower).

Tier 3

No mixing households indoors, or in most outdoor space. Maximum of six in parks and sports courts.

Bars, pubs and restaurants all closed, apart from take-away or delivery meals. Indoor entertainment closed.

Travel advice: Avoid leaving Tier 3 area, reduce journeys.

No overnight stays beyond local area, with exceptions for work, education. Accommodation closed, with exceptions for work.

Exercise classes and sports can take place outdoors, but not higher-risk contact activities.

Large events banned. Drive-in events permitted.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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