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Government Warned It Must Make Big Changes To Vaccine Passport Plans Or Face Commons Defeat

5 min read

The government is being urged to make big changes to its vaccine passport plans or face defeat in the Commons by opposition parties.

Both Labour and the SNP have confirmed they could not support the introduction of the “Covid status certification” in its current guise, as outlined by Boris Johnson this week.

With at least 40 of their own Conservative MPs vowing to block legislation bringing in such a system, it means they could struggle to get approval by Parliament.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the existing proposals are “a complete mess”, while the SNP said they are “mired in confusion and contradiction”.

The party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford tweeted this lunchtime: “On the basis of the information available, SNP MPs would not support Tory plans due to serious concerns over ethics.”

On Monday the government confirmed a trial of the certification system at nine events around the country will begin later this month after a Whitehall review into their use concluded they could “allow some freedoms to be restored more safely”.

The Prime Minister said people will have to either show they have been vaccinated, have had a recent negative test, or have “natural immunity” to attend sports matches, music festivals, theatres, night-clubs and other mass events.

Johnson said people would not need to prove their Covid status to go to the pub when they re-open next week, but the government’s own documents do not rule out their use in hospitality in the long term, leading to criticism from the industry and MPs.

Starmer has also doubled down on opposition to the government's proposed system. “We do not support the government’s plans in their current form – it is as simple as that," he told reporters during a visit to Plymouth his morning.

“In fact the government’s plan seems to be changing on an almost daily basis, only a few weeks ago the Prime Minister was saying that he was thinking of vaccine passports to go to the pub.

“Now he says he isn’t. One day he is talking about tests, then certificates, it is a complete mess.

“There isn’t a real plan around this, and what I fear is that it will be another example of the government with a plan that doesn’t work, costing lots of taxpayer money, when I think the focus should be on getting as many people vaccinated as possible – that is the light at the tunnel.”

He added: “And closing the massive gap we have still got in our defences, which is people who can’t afford to self-isolate because statutory sick pay isn’t enough and the government scheme doesn’t cover many people

“Let’s fix the problems we have really got, but we do not support the government’s plans in their current form.”Labour frontbencher, shadow defence secretary John Healey, said using vaccine passports domestically was “likely to be discriminatory”.

He said he was happy to see trials using some form of certification for mass events go ahead, but told Times Radio: “From what we've seen so far, it's very hard to see Labour being able to support domestic vaccine passports for general use.

“Because if we're going to be asking, or requiring people to produce them for the day to day things, we all want to get back to doing like pubs or shops, then it's likely to be divisive, it’s likely to be discriminatory.”

Blackford had originally hinted that the SNP’s 44 MPs could back some form of certification, particularly if it was based on testing as well as vaccination, but like Labour, has since refused to support plans in their current form. 

“The UK government hasn't published any firm proposals on covid certificates, and the Tory position has been mired in confusion and contradiction," he tweeted.

“On the basis of the information available, SNP MPs would not support Tory plans due to serious concerns over ethics.”

The Liberal Democrats have already indicated they would not support the plans in any form, its leader Sir Ed Davey said they would be “illiberal, unworkable and utterly ineffective in keeping people safe from Covid”.

The government is expected to put its final proposals to a vote in the Commons ahead of a certification system being introduced in the summer, but ministers have stopped short of guaranteeing one.

Without the support of opposition parties the focus will be on a likely rebellion of Tory backbenchers, led by the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptics.Its deputy chairman Steve Baker said: “Covid Status Certification – the requirement to have a domestic vaccine passport or instead to take two tests a week in order to take part in society – would be discriminatory, lead to a two-tier Britain and be entirely incompatible with freedom.”

With a working majority of 85, if all 41 Conservative MPs who joined a campaign opposing the plans vote against then it could be enough to see them blocked.

Downing Street sources have not ruled out suggestions the legislation for any domestic certification could be bundled up with international vaccine passports to re-enable foreign travel though, which are far less controversial, and could quell the potential rebellion.

But Baker added: “Whether the government imposes this, recommends it or simply stands back and allows it to happen, Covid-Status Certification would be entirely un-British and our country and values would become unrecognisable.

“Spending vast sums of taxpayers’ money and people’s time testing for a disease we have vaccinated against, and encouraging businesses to discriminate against pregnant women, those with health conditions and allergies, people from ethnic minorities, the disabled and the poor, is not the sort of Britain we should allow the pandemic to turn us into.”

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