More than 20 Labour MPs defied Keir Starmer to vote against compulsory vaccination for NHS staff as MPs approved the introduction of new restrictions to combat the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
The group of 22 Labour MPs who broke the party whip to vote against the vaccine mandate, which included former Shadow Cabinet ministers John McDonnell and Rebecca Long-Bailey, were backed by the Unison trade union.
Unison has called on the government to “promote persuation and reassurance,” rather than making the vaccine compulsory for front line health and care staff, arguing that should be down to individual choice.
A significant number of people working in the NHS are believed to have not received any Covid-19 vaccinations.
Labour MP for York Central Rachel Maskell, who voted against the measure said she had “serious concerns” about the plan to make receiving the coronavirus vaccine compulsory for all NHS staff.
In a debate prior to the vote, she warned requiring people who were hesitant about vaccines to get a jab would “push them away” from the profession and leave the health service severely short-staffed.
“We know that the Prime Minister is allowing people to go to pubs and clubs unmasked, whilst sacking NHS staff wearing full PPE and testing,” she told the House of Commons.
“I want all NHS and care staff to have vaccine counselling and education with a qualified practitioner holding the right competencies so that concerns can be explored.”
Paula Barker, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertee, who also voted against the proposal, said it set a precedent that should “worry every citizen” by making changes to employment conditions with mandatory vaccines for care home workers.
“For the first time ever we have seen the profession of care workers singled out and have conditions attached to their employment status which was never there to begin with,” she said.
The MP “personally implored” people to get vaccinated, but said the “right to choose” should be “something we should all take very seriously”.
Another Labour rebel, Clive Lewis, said the measure represented “the thin edge of the wedge with this authoritarian Govt [govenrment] & the former goes against the evidence”.
He tweeted: “NHS staff are not the problem. This Govt is.”
The proposal is one of several “Plan B” measures voted on by MPs, who gave the green light to the new restrictions designed to tackle rapidly-rising Covid case numbers.
The Prime Minister needed the help of Labour votes to get his plan through, however, with 98 Conservative MPs voting against the government on the plan to expand Covid certification, despite the government’s attempts to persuade them not to rebel.
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