Government Set To Plough Ahead With Vaccine Passports Despite Resistance From MPs And Hospitality
The government seem set to bring in Covid certification for pubs (Alamy)
Boris Johnson has reiterated the government's commitment to some form of coronavirus certification as the country opens up, despite hostility from MPs and the hospitality industry.
The Prime Minister’s comments today come after a series of meetings between ministers and backbenchers this week where those present say it is clear such a scheme is going ahead, though what form it will take and how widespread its use will be is still up for discussion.
Earlier this year, as he set out his roadmap to unlock the economy, Johnson said a review into vaccine passports would look at whether they were needed.
He is set to give an update on the inquiry’s work on Monday, but MPs who attended a roundtable with Michael Gove on Monday say they were left with no uncertainty that they are going to be introduced.
One MP who was there said the government “seems determined to bring them in,” although a number of their own backbenchers have already come out strongly against them, as have the Liberal Democrats.
But with Damian Green, chair of the moderate One Nation caucus of Tory MPs, indicating he would not oppose certification, it is unclear if Conservative rebels would have the votes to block a scheme in the Commons, even if Labour came out against them too.
The opposition’s official stance is unclear. Sir Keir Starmer told the Telegraph this morning that as the vaccine rollout continues and cases keep falling "there will be a British sense that we don't actually want to go down this road."
But the Labour leader stressed his desire for cross-party consensus and would not make a decision until actual proposals are put forward by the government.
However it was suggested some of the party’s senior MPs who were at the Gove meeting said they would not oppose it in principle.
It is believed the government’s system will allow people to prove their Covid status either through the vaccine, antibodies or a negative test.Speaking at a branch of B&Q in Middlesbrough the PM appeared to confirm this when he said: "There's definitely going to be a world in which international travel will use vaccine passports.
"You can see already that other countries, the aviation industry, are interested in this and there's a logic to that.
"I think when it comes to trying to make sure that we give maximum confidence to businesses and customers in the UK, there are three things – there's immunity whether you have had it before so you have natural antibodies, whether you have been vaccinated, and of course whether you have had a test."
How that will be administered has not yet been announced, and government sources suggested the PM's update on Easter Monday is unlikely to see that change.
But Gove told MPs that NHSX - the health department’s digital unit – is working on a system which may be incorporated into the existing NHS app.
That drew ire from some of those on the call, after the unit was derided for developing the separate Covid-19 contact tracing app last year, which was delayed and suffered from a number of teething problems.
One MP told PoliticsHome: "Governments and technology are rarely a happy mix, and they are even more rarely a happy mix if you are talking about rushed technology projects.”
The hospitality industry, which is expected to be the most affected by any Covid certification scheme, is also unhappy.
Kate Nicholls, chair of UK Hospitality, said while it may help open up international travel “it should not be used for day-to-day hospitality”.
“It would not be the liberating move for businesses the Government seems to think it would be,” she explained. “It would see further restrictions imposed at the worst possible time.
“Even introduced on a voluntary basis, vaccine passports have the potential to cause huge amounts of confusion among businesses, customers and staff.
"It could potentially give rise to a two-tier system of viability among businesses and a scenario in which young staff members, due to be vaccinated last, are working in a pub, but not able to use it for social purposes.”
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “Our sector has already gone to extraordinary lengths to prepare for reopening and we do not believe a requirement for pubs to check whether someone has had the vaccine would be appropriate or necessary.”
Together with the British Institute of Innkeeping they have also written to the PM to “express their incredulity at the government’s stealthy backsliding on pub reopening rules”, saying Covid Status Certification “could prevent millions of young people visiting the pub for months”.
In a joint statement they said: “Government has promised the country that we will be reopening but we are now being told that this will be with our hands tied behind our backs.
“Pubs will already be trading at a loss when they reopen with all the existing restrictions and Covid-secure measures in place. Adding further disproportionate and discriminatory measures threatens the very survival of thousands of businesses.”
Labour MP Charlotte Nicholls, chair of the parliamentary group on pubs, told PoliticsHome: “I think for pubs it's pretty ridiculous, because for many of the staff who work in pubs their age profile means they are going to be among the last to be getting vaccinated.
“So who is going to staff the pubs if they bring this in?”
She added: “I don't think Covid passports or however they are worded, is the way to do it. Clearly it's having test and trace working properly, supporting venues to be properly ventilated, and to have the support if there is a case identified and they need to close.”
It has been suggested that if the situation is that without certification businesses will have to maintain social distancing and other measures which mean that they won't be able to fully open up then they will accept it.
But an MP opposed to it said: “I think actually that's part of the reason why it's a dangerous idea.
“It creates a sense of complacency and false expectations about the circumstances in which people can gather, and it's actually going to be able to who you exclude rather than who you allow.”