Behind the scenes
Growing number of backbenchers set to shun annual meeting if jab documents are condition of entry
Lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs are threatening to boycott this autumn’s party conference if presenting Covid-19 vaccine passports is a condition of entry.
The growing list of rebels on the party’s “libertarian wing” were already “spooked” by Boris Johnson’s announcement that proof of having had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be required to get into nightclubs and other venues from the end of September, The Telegraph reports.
And mounting speculation that party chiefs may also demand that the passports must be shown to enter the Conservative conference, taking place in Manchester between 3 and 6 October, has left some backbench MPs “incensed”, the paper adds.
Tory MPs who have already vowed to boycott the conference including Mark Jenkinson, Chris Green and Peter Bone. Helena Morrissey, who sits in the Lords, UK Independence Party (Ukip) defector Craig Mackinlay and Andrew Bridgen have also said they will not attend, according to Guido Fawkes, along with Steve Baker, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic MPs.
And Charles Walker, a former member of the party’s board, “has previously said he wouldn’t get the vaccine due to a phobia of needles” and confirmed yesterday that he remains unjabbed, the right-wing news site reports.
Meanwhile, Bolton West MP Green said that the conference is “down the road from my constituency and a great chance to champion levelling up”, but added: “I will not be attending in person or online.”
Jenkinson tweeted that while he was double-jabbed and had booked a conference ticket, he would refuse to go too “if we’re excluding people on the basis of their vaccination status”.
And Baker tweeted that “with a heavy heart and apologies to event organisers”, he would do likewise.
The group of rebels is expected to grow, amid an “outcry” from Johnson’s backbenches over his vaccine passport plan, The Guardian reports.
An unnamed MP told the paper they would “not be going to any venue that requires this kind of thing, including my own party’s conference”.
The threatened boycott could prove highly embarrassing for Johnson. The Independent reports that rebel MP Green has “suggested that anti-certification Tories could set up an alternative ‘Freedom Zone’ conference outside the main event”.
The prime minister is in a “real bind”, says Guido Fawkes, which argues that Johnson has two equally unappealing options: press ahead with the plan and “lose support amongst party ideologues” or drop it and “get mauled by the press”.
However, the decision could be taken out of the PM’s hands if he loses the vote to make vaccine passports mandatory. Backbenchers told The Guardian they were “confident enough” the party will “unite to kill off” the proposal.
The Telegraph says the expected rebellion “could be enough to overturn Johnson’s Commons working majority if all other opposition MPs voted against the measures”. And according to the paper, Labour “is also considering voting against”.
Alternatively, introducing the jab passports might not be necessary if more young people get vaccinated. The Telegraph reports that “internal government data figures show that twice as many over-18s came forward” after Johnson announced the plan.