Boris Johnson faced a Tory revolt over legislation plunging England into its third national lockdown.
Angry backbenchers expressed alarm over new laws, after the small print revealed the lockdown could stay in place until March.
MPs backed the plan in a Commons vote on Wednesday by 524 votes to 16, providing the Prime Minister with a majority of 508.
But 12 Tory and 4 DUP MPs opposed the legislation.
While the scale of the Tory revolt was smaller than the 55 MPs who opposed the tougher tier rules in December, it is a sign of trouble ahead for the Prime Minister.
Mr Johnson insisted he had no choice but to impose a third national lockdown as the UK’s death toll soared to levels seen during the peak of the pandemic in April.
He told MPs earlier that the March deadline was “not because we expect the full national lockdown to continue until then but to allow a steady, controlled and evidence-led move down through the tiers on a regional basis”.
The PM added: “Our emergence from the lockdown cocoon will not be a big bang but a gradual unwrapping.”
On Wednesday, 1,041 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 – the highest daily reported total since April 21.
Official figures are being affected by a lag of reporting over the festive period, with a round a third of the new deaths taking place before January 1 and around 100 in the week before Christmas Day.
Record numbers of Covid-19 patients are in England’s hospitals, with 27,727 people on the wards as of 8am on January 6. The figure is up 22% on a week ago.
A string of Tory rebels expressed anger at new restrictions – despite the spiralling infection rates.
Former minister Sir Desmond Swayne branded lockdowns a “complete failure” while Sir Robert Syms said the measures, which are in place until March 31, were “essentially a blank cheque for three months to Public Health England to do what they wish”.
Senior backbencher Sir Charles Walker blasted “privileged” people who were finding it easy to follow the rules.
“I can’t support criminalising a parent for seeing a child in the park over the coming months, it’s not within my DNA to do that,” he said.
Sir Charles said it was “easy” for him and “most people in this House to comply with the law”, explaining: “We’re comfortably off, we live in nice houses, we have gardens, we have outdoor spaces, we have access to family.
“The same applies to those journalists who fill our TV screens every night with their wisdom and wit about how people should comply with these regulations, and how they sneer at those who can’t.”
How MPs voted on the lockdown
The new law, known as the Health Protection ( Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 3) and (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, passed by 524 votes to 16, with a majority of 508.
No vote was recorded for 25 MPs, although this does not automatically mean they abstained.
Full list of rebels
12 Conservative MPs rebelled to oppose the lockdown regulations:
- Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West
- Philip Davies (Shipley)
Richard Drax (South Dorset)
Karl McCartney (Lincoln)
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage)
Esther McVey (Tatton)
Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot)
Andrew Rosindell (Romford)
Desmond Swayne (New Forest West)
Robert Syms (Poole)
Charles Walker (Broxbourne)
David Warburton (Somerton and Frome)
4 DUP MPs also voted against the lockdown:
Paul Girvan (South Antrim)
Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann)
Ian Paisley (North Antrim)
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim)
Two Tory MPs acted as tellers for the noes – Christopher Chope (Christchurch) and Chris Green (Bolton West)