Boris Johnson suffered a parliamentary rebellion among UK MPs from his ruling Conservative Party on Tuesday evening, over planned new restrictions in England to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Alarmed at the impact on an already severely weakened economy, several dozen Tory parliamentarians voted against the new tiered system, due to replace the current month-long national lockdown which expires on Wednesday.
However, the prime minister was still assured of winning the vote in the House of Commons and the new measures were duly passed by 291 votes to 78. But it's estimated that more than 50 Tories opposed them in the biggest revolt under Johnson's year-old premiership so far.
The governing party has an 80-seat majority, but the determining factor was the Labour Party's intention to abstain. It is the first time the UK's main opposition party has refused to support government strategy over the pandemic.
Under the new three-tiered system, almost 99% of England's 56 million inhabitants will continue to live under strict constraints. These include the ongoing closure of pubs and restaurants in the worst-affected areas or the ban on different households from mixing indoors across the great majority of the country.
In an attempt to calm its detractors, on Monday the government published an impact study of the new restrictions. It acknowledges that they bring significant costs to the economy, but argues that the consequences of allowing the virus to spread out of control would be much worse for public health.
Opening the debate in parliament on Tuesday, Johnson announced a flat compensation payment in December of £1,000 (€1,113) for pubs that were unable to serve food and therefore have to remain closed.
He said he was encouraged by progress made towards vaccines against COVID-19, but it was too early to say when they would get regulatory approval.
The new coronavirus has killed nearly 58,500 people in the UK -- the highest number of any country in Europe -- and there have been more than 1.6 million confirmed cases, according to official figures.
The British government and leaders of the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland -- which implement their own pandemic strategies -- have agreed to allow families and friends to get together over Christmas. A maximum of three households will be able to meet between December 23 and 27.