Mark Harper has an unusual quality for a rebel leader, he’s a former government chief whip. So, it is fair to assume that he wouldn’t have declared this evening that the ‘wheels are coming off the government’s arguments’ and that ‘even with so little time, the government’s analysis seems to be collapsing under the glare of scrutiny’ if he didn’t think that the bulk of the Covid Recovery Group, which is 70-odd strong, agreed with him. Certainly, some of those MPs I would have expected to back the government tomorrow night after making their concerns clear, now appear intent on voting against the government.
Now, given that 42 Tory MPs voted against curfew, it is not that surprising that more are likely to vote against the tier system. But it leaves Boris Johnson in the uncomfortable position of having a Tory rebellion that is bigger than his majority, leaving him reliant on the good will of the opposition for these measures to pass.
The problem for the Prime Minister is that there’ll be more votes on Covid measures in the coming months where this dynamic is likely to repeat itself – and it is a dynamic that is corrosive to the relationship between a leader and his parliamentary party. The consolation for Boris Johnson is that there is now at least an end in sight to this crisis with the various vaccine breakthroughs. But it’s clear that before these restrictions are over, there will be more damage done to relations between Johnson and his own MPs.