UK Covid live: UKHSA chief tells MPs to expect ‘quite staggering’ figures on Omicron


Good morning. It is one of those ‘morning after the night before’ moments at Westminster, when the politico-media establishment is still trying to quantify exactly how significant or damaging last night’s votes were. Clearly they have implications for the government’s ability to legislate for further Covid regulations, and for Boris Johnson’s leadership. But it might not be quite the defining moment that it seemed last night. Until yesterday, Johnson’s previous biggest rebellion came last December on tiering arrangements for England (remember them?). That was also seen as evidence that he was pushing the Conservative party as far as it would go on Covid regulations. But then came the Alpha variant and another surge, and a few weeks later a second lockdown happened without much protest from the Conservative party.

Still, no-one can pretend it doesn’t matter, and one of the interesting things about the Tory rebellion is that it was fuelled by a blend of different motives. Mostly it was driven by libertarian lockdown-scepticism, but some of the MPs were voting against Covid passes just because they thought they would not work (several quoted a paper by the SNP government in Scotland to support their case) and general dissatisfaction with Johnson’s leadership (heightened by the Owen Paterson debacle and partygate) was a factor too.

Sheer ineptitude may have played a part too. Many Tory MPs made it clear in the debate that they wanted an assurance that, if further Covid restrictions are needed over Christmas, parliament will be recalled. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, could not give this promise during the debate, and Johnson himself was ambiguous on this point when he addressed the Conservative 1922 Committee, shortly before the debate.

But now the government is explicity making this promise – about 12 hours after it might have helped win over a few votes. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has been making that clear in his morning broadcast round. He told BBC Breakfast:

We have got in place now the measures that we believe will see us through to the new year.

If we did need to do anything else, parliament would be recalled too in order to vote on doing that, so it won’t just be an automated thing.

Here is our overnight story on last night’s vote.

And here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The UK Health Security Agency gives evidence to the Commons transport committee on the airline industry and Covid; at 10.45am Robert Courts, the aviation minister, gives evidence.

12pm: Boris Johnson faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.

2pm: Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, and Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, and other senior health officials give evidence to the public accounts committee about NHS waiting lists.

I will be largely focusing on UK Covid-related issues today, but there is much more coverage on our global Covid live blog. It’s here.

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