Boris Johnson was forced into an embarrassing U-turn this afternoon after a major Tory rebellion against hiking a £400 fee charged to health and care workers from non-EU countries.
The Prime Minister scrambled to make an exemption for the heroes of the battle against coronavirus amid strong warnings that the Government looked “mean-spirited and petty”.
Three Conservative chairmen of Commons select committees and a string of backbenchers revealed to the Evening Standard they were calling on the PM to “think again” about the fee which is due to soar to £624 in October. A former party chairman called it “monstrous and immoral”.
Within hours of our story No 10 announced that Mr Johnson had asked the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible.
It is a victory for new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer who spotlighted the burden placed by the charge on low paid hospital porters and care workers in the Commons.
Changing the rules is a headache for the Government because any exemption means drawing a line that means some workers will be exempt and others still have to pay. Delivery workers who serve the health and care sectors, for example, might not benefit.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The PM has asked the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible.
“Work by officials is now under way on how to implement the change and full details will be announced in the coming days.
“As the PM said in the House of Commons, he has been thinking about this a great deal.
“He been a personal beneficiary of carers from abroad and understands the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff.
“The purpose of the NHS surcharge is to benefit the NHS, help to care for the sick and save lives. NHS and care workers from abroad who are granted visas are doing this already by the fantastic contribution which they make.”
The decision was immediately welcomed by opposition leaders.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “Boris Johnson is right to have U-turned and backed our proposal to remove the NHS charge for health professionals and care workers.
“This is a victory for common decency and the right thing to do.
“We cannot clap our carers one day and then charge them to use our NHS the next.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner added: “This is excellent news and a very welcome move from the government for those brave workers fighting #COVID19”.