Steerpike

Royston Smith’s vaccine passports U-turn

Royston Smith's vaccine passports U-turn
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Southampton – it's where so many great chapters in English history have begun. From the Agincourt archers to the Pilgrim Fathers' discovery, the 'Gateway to the Empire' has seen countless memorable journeys over the years. Unfortunately, one of those leaving Soton's berth yesterday did not live up to such past glories after exercising a last minute U-turn with all the adroitness of the Titanic, trying to avoid that iceberg.

For Royston Smith – the Member for Southampton Itchen – last night pulled off something of a reverse Mission Impossible, snatching shame from the mouth of glory after being one of just two self-declared vaccine passport rebels to instead vote for the measure. Smith, who told his local newspaper just six days ago that: 'As for covid passports, I have never supported them and still don’t,' was in a feisty mood on the morning of the vote, criticising George Osborne for backing such measures, declaring: 'The point is George we're not being 'asked' we're being mandated'. 

Yet the former RAF engineer seems to have lost his bearings in the voting lobbies last night for he ended being one of the 227 Tories to back vaccine passports. Curiously, his social media accounts seem remarkably silent about this sudden U-turn, with not a single tweet or Facebook status issued since yesterday lunchtime. Smith has subsequently told constituents that he got confused on the parliamentary procedure and, having planned to rebel, he found himself accidentally in the wrong voting lobby and voted for the measure by mistake. The other rebel who did a volte face was Robert Goodwill, who wrote to a constituent to express his opposition, only to then change his mind.  

Others who emerged with less credit from last night's vote include the anonymous Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs) who were briefing that they could resign over the measure. The Daily Telegraph profiled ten of them – none quit. In the event, the only frontbench to lose a spokesman over Plan B was Labour's Rachael Maskell quitting over mandatory jabs for NHS and social care workers.

Interestingly though, is one minor act of rebellion which appears to have escaped under the radar. For Craig Williams, PPS to the Treasury, voted for both compulsory vaccinations and more mandatory face coverings but appears to have skipped the vote on vaccine passports. An abstention is not a vote against the measures of course but it's still a rebellion, given the three-line whip.

Still, at least he didn't say one thing then do another.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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