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Senior Tory Says Nightclub Vaccine Passports Are “Unenforceable” And “Another Blow” To The Industry

Nightclubs in England can re-open again after being closed for 16 months during the pandemic (Alamy)

5 min read

A senior Tory MP has criticised the government's plans to force nightclubs to check people's Covid status as a condition of entry, and said it is "unenforceable".

William Wragg, chair of the influential public administration committee, told PoliticsHome he believed making Covid certification compulsory would leave venues vulnerable to “ugly confrontation”.

The industry has faced 16 months of closures, and consider this development to be yet another blow as they struggle to get back on their feet.

On Monday, England is moving to step 4 of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown, where the last remaining sectors of the economy shut down by the pandemic, including nightclubs, can re-open.

The Prime Minister said businesses and large events will be supported and encouraged to use certification via the NHS Covid Pass – referred to as “vaccine passports” – in high risk settings, such as bars and nightclubs.

But having repeatedly said they did not want to force the use of such Covid certification domestically, the government confirmed they will not be a legal requirement from next week, and there'll be no punishment for venues who decide not to use them.

Two of the biggest nightclub groups, Rekom UK and Tokyo Industries, said their almost 100 venues across the country will not be requiring people to show any form of certification.

But official guidance about moving to step 4, says refusual to request Covid certification could still lead to closures. "If sufficient measures are not taken to limit infection, the Government will consider mandating the NHS COVID Pass in certain venues at a later date,” it reads.

The government has refused to rule out making Covid certification compulsory. 

“There are no plans to mandate that currently, but clearly as a responsible government we will want to keep the situation under review based on on the course of the pandemic,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said.

But Wragg is sharply critical of this stance. “The government shouldn't pursue this policy, either directly or by stealth," he said. 

“I think doing it directly necessitates a parliamentary vote, doing it by stealth as a means of circumventing the need for parliamentary vote is wrong.

"The danger of that, in not even seeking a parliamentary vote, is that you leave venues and others to become, essentially, the enforcers of something which which isn't the law, and that is not how the rule of law works in this country.”

Calling it “an unwelcome threat”, he pointed out many Tory MPs signed a letter against using certification domestically, with Labour and the Lib Dems also having strongly spoken out against it.

“I don't think there's an appetite for it”, he added.

“It's not for the government to make a suggestion which is unenforceable in law and I think leaves venues quite vulnerable to all kinds of just ugly confrontation if left policing something that's not theirs to police.”

Wragg said he expects if people are denied entry to a venue there there will be a legal challenge and businesses will be “found wanting, because they're not acting within the law”.

The PM’s spokesperson defended using certification on entry, saying businesses have always been able to set their own policies for who can come in, and this will be added to existing ID checks for age.

Mandatory Covid certification has also been criticised by Labour MP Jeff Smith, chair of the all-parliamentary group on nightlife, who said businesses do not want to have to use the system, and it will put people off going back to clubs.

“Nightlife venues are not generally in favour of vaccine certification for admission, and most won’t be requiring it on reopening," he told PolticsHome. 

“Mandatory certification would be very difficult to implement and enforce, and there’s a real worry that customers wouldn’t bother attending, particularly as nightlife often relies on spontaneous custom.

“It would potentially be another blow to trading for an industry that has already been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Alex Proud, owner of Proud nightclubs, said he found the proposition of certification compulsory "deeply worrying and frustrating". Proud believed it was especially discriminatory to younger age groups who have not yet had the chance to receive a second vaccine. 

“We emphasise that we’ve invested in sanitation and we feel these measures are adequate rather than overly authoritarian Covid passports,” he said. 

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Nighttime Industries Association, said the group had consistently opposed Covid certification, and continued to believe it was ethically compromising. 

“The lack of understanding of our sector and the comparative environments not ‘urged’ or ‘encouraged‘ to use these measures, with similarities in proximity and contact, will only lead to suggestions that the late night sector is being unfairly targeted,” Kill told PoliticsHome. 

Director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo, said: “Covid certification is a dangerous gimmick that does nothing to make us safer, whilst making us less free.

"Covid passes are the first attempt at segregation in Britain for decades, dividing communities without reducing the risks.

“We are in real danger of becoming a check-point society where anyone from bouncers to bosses demand to see our papers.”

She added: “In encouraging businesses to use Covid passes, the government is passing the buck for its own pandemic failures whilst encouraging a two-tier nation of division and discrimination.

"We won't tolerate it. Businesses must be open for all and we will name, shame and boycott any companies demanding Covid passes.”

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