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Tory Rebels Told To Back Down On New Threat To Vote Against Covid Vaccine Passports

5 min read

A senior minister has urged Tory MPs to back Covid passports for crowded venues when the measure goes to a vote, explaining they are being proposed with the "heaviest of hearts".

More than 40 Conservative MPs have indicated they may be prepared to rebel on measures requiring people to demonstrate their vaccination status, which so far the government has said will apply to nightclubs from September. 

Last night the Guardian reported that 42 Tories had signed a cross-party declaration of 79 MPs and 14 peers, in collaboration with the privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch, opposing the use of a vaccine-only policy. It stated: "We oppose the divisive and discriminatory use of COVID status certification to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs."

The number of Tories who oppose vaccine certification will be a significant worry for the Prime Minister, as 40 Conservatives voting against the government, in addition to other parties opposing the measure, could deprive Johnson of a majority.

The vote is not expected to take place before parliament rises for summer recess on Thursday, meaning it would not be put before MPs until September. 

In a virtual media briefing this morning, Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, issued a plea to those intending to vote against the measures in an attempt to scupper a rebellion, insisting that the government was only going ahead with covid certification because they believed it to be necessary and effective. 

"As far as a rebellion is concerned, if I was in a position to talk to colleagues who are uncomfortable about these proposals [I'd say] that absolutely none of these things are ever done with any degree of enthusiasm or glee," he said. 

"We only come up with regulations because we feel there is sufficient medical evidence and the advice of Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance is so compelling that we are really left with no option. 

"Sometimes it's portrayed as something we enthusiastically embrace. Actually nobody wants to be in this position, nobody wants to impose restrictions on people's daily lives or their businesses."

He continued: "It's always done with the heaviest of hearts and on the basis of what we think is really compelling advice and evidence. 

"I very much hope that if we get to a vote on this that we can take as many colleagues with us as possible. It will only have been done with the best interests of national safety."

Nightclubs reopened on Monday for the first time in 17 months and within days the Prime Minister said that by the end of September, when all over 18s have had their chance to be double vaccinated, the government is planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather.

The government has said evidence from nightclub openings abroad, particularly in the Netherlands, has shown that operating without Covid restrictions can lead to an increase in cases. 

Wales minister and assistant government whip David TC Davies echoed Hart's appeal to the rebels at this morning's briefing. 

"None of us want to do this, or bring in any of these restrictions. If they aren't brought in, it is because there's no alternative," he said.

"The nightclub industry have been saying they want to be open. We need to keep the public safe, and therefore this is being considered. And time is now being given to people to bring these in without problems."

One senior MP told PolticsHome they thought the "vote could be interesting" if the opposition was prepared to vote agaist vaccine certification measures, meaning the balance would fall into the hands of the Tory rebels. 

"If the vote is in the autumn, MPs will hear from a lot of angry young voters before then,” they said. 

A Conservative MP who is a longstanding opponent of Covid certification said it “sounds like it is game on!” after hearing that such proposals would need to brought before the Commons in primary legislation. 

Sir Desmond Swayne, who has consistently opposed a variety of pandemic restrictions, said he will be voting against mandatory Covid certification. 

He is one of the group of Conservatives who have signed up to Big Brother Watch's campaign against the vaccine passports.

Alistair Carmichael, whose Liberal Democrat party plan to vote against the measures, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the government tried to bundle up the decision on certification into wider Covid legislation as a way of getting it through. 

“If this was Theresa May’s government I could understand that sort of shenanigans but it's not, this is a government that's got a big majority, it should be able to get its business through the House of Commons without too much difficulty," he told PoliticsHome.

“But even a government with a big majority has got to have a coherent argument on something like this, and they just don't have that. 

“Now it remains to be seen of course whether the Labour Party may ride to the rescue and find a reason to equivocate because they're actually quite keen on a lot of this sort of stuff.”

He added: “It's sort of classic Starmer positioning, isn't it? You wait and see which way the wind is blowing, and then you follow it.”

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