James Heappey Burnham-On-Sea MP

Burnham-On-Sea’s MP has explained why he backed the Government and Boris Johnson over new Covid passes during a House of Commons vote last night (Tuesday), despite the biggest revolt by Tory MPs since he became PM.

A total of 99 Conservatives voted against the government, but the measure was passed by a majority of 243 due to Labour support.

NHS Covid passes, showing a recent negative test or full vaccination, must be shown to get into large venues. MPs also voted to back compulsory face masks in most indoor settings.

Burnham’s MP James Heappey says he received many messages on both sides of the debate from local people: “I know from the mailbag that people feel really strongly about this. I’ve had lots of people getting in touch with me to say that if I were to support these measures I would lose their support and that they’d never vote for me again, and I’ve had other people getting in touch saying that they are concerned that the measures don’t go far enough and that they are really worried about the Omicron variant and what it might mean for their health.”

“It’s at times like this when you read your inbox with concern, you look at your social media messages with concern. You know that you’re going to create some pretty angry people whichever way you vote.”

“But my judgement is that I’ve got to support the measures that are being proposed – and I think that that’s for three reasons.”

“Firstly, these are proportionate. To wear a mask in places where the risk of infection is highest, I don’t have a problem with that at all. I also think that it’s right that those who work in the NHS should be fully vaccinated, both to protect themselves and their patients.”

“I also think it’s right that when you go to a large venue – a place holding 500 people or more – that you should show that you’ve either tested negative or that you’re fully vaccinated but that’s not a ‘vaccine passport’ as people have presented it because you don’t have to be vaccinated; you could have just taken a negative test. So the choice is still yours, even though I would strongly encourage you to get vaccinated and boosted at the first opportunity.”

“Secondly, I think that there’s potential for far worse measures to come if this really is as bad as some people say and I think that we’ve got in our gift the choice to vote for something that actually means that it’s less likely to need to take any stronger measures in due course because we can ‘see this off’ here. We can take action that will reduce infections that will reduce pressure on our hospitals and will allow us to keep the hospitality industry open because we put in place this measure where you show a negative test or that you’re vaccinated.” Bu

He adds: “Thirdly, and by far the most important, is that I just do not know what the situation will be in two weeks’ time and I’ve got to make a decision tonight to try to do something that slows the spread of the Omicron virus and at the moment I know dozens of people personally have got it right now. That means there’s probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of cases already in the country and by the end of next week, who knows, tens of millions of cases.”

“I just can’t take the risk that if just a tiny percentage of them need hospitalisation that’s still a huge number of people going into hospital, so I’m going to make a judgement to do what I think is the right thing. If I were to wait and in two weeks’ time the scientists were to be proved correct I would have been responsible for lots of people – thousands – in my constituency being placed unnecessarily in danger. As your MP that’s not a risk I’m willing to take so I’ll be supporting the government. I’ll be supporting these measures – I know that’s going to upset some people but I truly, truly believe from the bottom of my heart that it is the right thing to do.”

Before the votes, the Prime Minister had made a last-minute plea to his MPs to support the Government’s measures, outlined in its Plan B, designed to deal with an expected winter surge in coronavirus infections. But several Conservative backbenchers lined up during the Commons debate to criticise them.

 
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