Conservative MPs who broke a three-line whip to reject Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 tiering system will not face sanctions because he respects their decision, Downing Street has said.
The prime minister faced the worst parliamentary rebellion of his premiership on Tuesday, with 55 Tory MPs voting against the new restrictions, which came into force on Wednesday.
Many of the rebels were members of the Covid Recovery Group, whose chair, Mark Harper, has questioned the data made available to justify the government’s decision to place 99% of England’s population in tiers two and three.
The prime minister’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said Johnson welcomed the fact that the regulations had passed, by 291 to 78, with Labour abstaining. “The prime minister is pleased that he won the vote last night, and indeed that he was able to persuade quite a number of Conservative MPs in the end to not rebel,” she said.
“He listened to them, and he gave them over the course of the past few days quite considerable concessions.”
Johnson held a series of meetings with anxious MPs and sought to persuade some to change their minds as they entered the voting lobbies on Tuesday night.
Stratton pointed to extra help for the hospitality industry and a fresh opportunity for parliament to examine the regime next month. She said the rules were looser than those in place before the four-week shutdown.
Asked whether MPs disobeying the party whip would be disciplined, as would be usual on such a major vote, she said: “There are no consequences. The prime minister respects them. We get that this was a very, very grave decision for lots of Conservative colleagues, and we respect those who have made a different decision.”
Johnson expelled 21 Conservative MPs from his party last September after they supported an attempt to prevent a no-deal Brexit. He appears to be pursuing a more emollient approach after the departure of his combative chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, was announced.
Johnson mocked the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, for abstaining on the Covid vote, saying he had gone from being “Captain Hindsight” to “General Indecision”.
Many Conservative MPs have called for a more localised assessment of which tier their areas should be in – rejecting the government’s general approach of applying restrictions on a countrywide or regional basis.
Ministers have promised to examine local authorities separately when the first regular review of the restrictions takes place on 16 December, but Johnson has also said the system needs to be simple and easily understood.