Labour Accused Of "Hypocrisy" And The Tories Of Leaving Businesses In "Treacherous Limbo" Over Vaccine Passports
The government is refusing to rule out making Covid certification compulsory this winter (Alamy)
7 min read
Labour has been accused of hypocrisy over vaccine passports for criticising them but continuing to insist people attending their party conference have proof they have been double jabbed or a negative test to get in.
The party is not dropping the requirement to check someone’s Covid status either, even though health secretary Sajid Javid has scrapped plans for people to prove they have been double jabbed.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has said he is against vaccine passports if they are required to access essential services, and would only back them for nightclubs if they also included a test.
His deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has previously spoken out about how they add more bureaucracy for businesses. Scottish Labour are against them and a number of Labour MPs have been vocally unhappy with the concept.
Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, said: "To criticise in one breath the use of vaccine passports and in another roll them out for conference season is the sort of hypocrisy I'd expect from Conservative MPs, not those in Her Majesty's Opposition, Liberal Democrats will continue to oppose illiberal anti-business Covid ID cards."
Despite Javid announcing the change in thinking on passports on Sunday (September 12) the venue in Brighton where Labour’s conference is being held (from September 24) is still making it a requirement of entry to events held there, which includes gigs before and after the conference.
Labour say they carried out a risk assessment with the centre’s staff to ensure safety and comfort for guests, and letters have gone out to attendees with their passes asking for "either evidence of double vaccination via a Covid vaccine passport, or a recent negative lateral flow test."
A Labour spokesperson said: “Unlike the government, we have been consistent and clear that we do not support the introduction of any scheme that only provides access to a service for the fully vaccinated.
“People should have the option of presenting a negative test result as an alternative, as is the case for Labour conference.”
The Tories had mooted a requirement for Covid passports at their party conference, held at Manchester Central conference venue from Sunday October 3.
Johnson was facing a major backlash from backbenchers with threats from some they would not attend conference if they had to prove their vaccination status.
The rapid ditching of the Covid passport by Javid has left the night-time industry reeling and key figures from the sector have accused Downing Street of creating "chaos" by still leaving the door open to compulsory passports, even if there are no immediate plans for them.
Business have been left in a “treacherous limbo” say campaigners, after Number 10 confirmed Covid certification could still be made mandatory in venues this winter.
Javid on Sunday said that nightclubs would no longer be forced into checking people’s coronavirus status upon entry from the end of the month, but on Monday morning Boris Johnson said while he wanted to avoid bringing them in, the policy had to be kept “in reserve in case things change”, while his Cabinet colleague Therese Coffey said “it's not completely taken off the table.”
Today the government has announced as part of its “plan B” for dealing with coronavirus this winter that mandatory vaccine certification would come in for “a limited number of settings, with specific characteristics”.
If enacted it would apply to all nightclubs, indoor settings with 500 or more attendees, outdoor settings with 4,000 or more people, and any settings of 10,000 and upwards.
A document outlining the plan says communal worship, weddings, funerals and other commemorative events, protests and mass participation sporting events will be exempt from the requirement.
But Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “I don’t think I have ever seen a government reverse its position on one issue so many times.
“What chaos, and what an abhorrent way to treat a sector that has been one of the worst hit during the pandemic. We estimate vaccine passports will kill off about 30% of our trade.
“Yesterday, the sector was rejoicing that our campaigning efforts had paid off and that the policy was dead.
"Today, businesses up and down the country are once again thinking they may have to make an enormous and detrimental change to their operating model in the next couple of weeks.
“The idea too, that a vast and logistically challenging policy can be kept in ‘reserve’ – as if businesses can and will be able to, at a moment’s notice, have all of the training and technology in place to administer these systems – is absurd.
“Sometimes it feels like ministers have no idea what it is like to run a business.”
Silkie Carlo, director of the civil rights group Big Brother Watch, said the government was keeping firms in “treacherous limbo” by not ruling vaccine passports entirely, and also called for more certainty.
She told PoliticsHome: “It is the right decision to scrap plans for discriminatory and invasive vaccine passports, and a very welcome one after our tireless campaign. They'd make no one safer, but leave us with a two-tier, checkpoint society.
“We're extremely concerned that vaccine passports may still go ahead in Scotland and urge Nicola Sturgeon, and the Scottish Greens propping up the plans, to urgently halt their plans.”
Shaun Hinds, CEO at Manchester Central, the venue for next months’ Conservative Party conference, said: "Over the past 48 hours, we have heard multiple statements regarding the introduction of vaccine passports for the events industry.
"While there are many questions over the pros and cons of such measures, my current concern lies with the ever-changing landscape. Businesses, especially those in the events industry, cannot run efficiently with ongoing speculation and rapidly changing rules.
“This constantly shifting landscape is difficult to work with and unhelpful to our situation when we are planning events months in advance.”
Amy Lamé, London’s Night Czar, said venues in the capital were relieved to hear vaccine passports won’t be required later this month, but said if the government is still considering them "they must provide adequate notice to these businesses with absolute clarity on how they would be implemented fairly and consistently, without discriminating against people with exemptions or putting a further financial burden on these industries”.
Former Lib Dem Cabinet minister Carmichael said the idea of vaccine passports has been "buried", but warns there are still some in government who want to "exhume the corpse”.
“I think there's probably still enthusiasts for the government, because there are always people, especially amongst the civil servants, who like the idea of identity cards - that’s in the nature of government," Carmichael said.
"But every time they bring it back it's just going to get exactly the same treatment. The civil liberties aspects of it are not going to change, nor in fact are the practical considerations.”
He said vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was sent out like a “human sacrifice” to defend them last week, only to be “duly consumed” by his own backbench.
“It was pretty clear that even with the SNP support they wouldn’t be able to get it through the House, and that was why we're very equivocal on the pressure of a vote.”
He said the only way it will come into force is if the government does so without a vote in the Commons, but as a former deputy chief whip he said "that just causes massive and unnecessary ructions on their own backbenches".
Carmichael added: “I think the idea was effectively killed on Wednesday, it was buried yesterday, even if there are still those who might want to exhume the corpse, but even if you do I can't see anyone being able to breathe life into it.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe