Boris Johnson faces battle to get vaccine passports through parliament

Boris Johnson faces a struggle to introduce “vaccine passports”, after Labour and Liberal Democrats said they opposed his plans and the leader of lockdown-sceptic Tories warned that they risk creating a “two-tier Britain”.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed today that any “Covid-status certification” scheme will go to a vote in the Commons, with a knife-edge result likely as 40 or more Tory MPs expressed severe reservations about the plan.

Government papers released on Monday said that the use of some kind of certificate to proof Covid status is “likely to become a feature of our lives” to allow the return of international travel and mass-attendance events like concerts, festivals and sports fixtures – with trials taking place at events including the FA Cup final over the coming weeks.

Any passport is likely to come as a smartphone app, as well as in physical form, and to record if the holder has been vaccinated, received a recent negative test or developed antibodies from an infection over the previous six months.

Ministers believe that some businesses are certain to want to introduce checks on people entering their premises, and think it is better for the state to devise a UK-wide system than to allow the emergence of multiple unofficial schemes.

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But Monday’s interim report indicated that passports will be ruled out for essential shops and public transport and will be optional for pubs and restaurants, with landlords able to relax social distancing rules in return for imposing checks on customers.

Labour said it could not support the plan as currently proposed.

“On the basis of what we’ve seen and discussed with ministers, we oppose the government’s plans for domestic vaccine passports,” said a senior party source.

“They appear poorly thought-through, will put added burdens on business and run the risk of becoming another expensive Whitehall project that gets outsourced to friends of Tory ministers. 

“Labour’s focus would be on getting the vaccine out, fixing self-isolation and contact tracing.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for more detail from the government, pointing out that ministers have not ruled out demanding a Covid passport to enter non-essential shops, like clothing stores.

“I’m not going to support a policy that, here in my Leicester constituency, if someone wants to go into Next or H&M, they have to produce a vaccination certificate on their phone, on an app,” said Mr Ashworth. “I think that’s discriminatory.”

While it “makes sense” to ask people to take a test before going to events such as a football match, “we don’t think asking you to produce a vaccination passport, which is this digital ID card, is fair”, he said.

Some 70 MPs, including 40 Tories, backed a warning last week that vaccine passports would be “dangerous, discriminatory and counterproductive”, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said their use in pubs would go against “the British instinct”.

The leader of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic Tory backbenchers, Mark Harper, last night demanded a vote on any domestic passport scheme.

Mr Harper said that the introduction of Covid-status certificates would extend coronavirus controls beyond the 21 June date when the government has promised “no legal limits on social contact (or) life events”.

He warned it would not be “acceptable” to introduce vaccine passports by the back door by linking them to removing social distancing rules.

And he said: “Whether the state legislates for it, recommends it or simply allows it, Covid-status certification will lead to a two-tier Britain and these issues need debating thoroughly and carefully before we allow them to affect the lives of our constituents.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson confirmed her party would oppose what she termed “anti-business and anti-freedom ID cards”.

Ms Wilson said:“This risks creating a two-tier society, leaving the those unable to take the vaccine and young people barred from theatres and cinemas relying on them for survival. 

“Based on their past attempts, the thought of a Government controlled app holding your most personal details and acting as your passport to freedoms should worry us all.”

The chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body, Kate Nicholls, said that mandatory vaccine passports would mean pubs and restaurants having to employ two people on the door to check guests in, while continued social distancing rules would make venues unprofitable.

“Our businesses face a Hobson’s choice,” she told Sky News. “They either have to impose vaccine certificates on their premises, which comes with additional costs and administrative burdens, or they have social distancing restrictions for longer, which means that they don’t make a profit and can’t break even.

“Either way they are faced with significant costs and administrative challenges to open after 21 June.”

Mr Johnson stressed that no decision has been taken on the introduction of certificates, which are being considered by a panel chaired by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove. The PM ruled out their introduction in April or May.

Mr Zahawi told Times Radio: “We haven’t even got to the stage where we have decided what we want to do on this domestically, because there are so many issues that do need careful consideration.

“But the prime minister made it very clear, if we do get to that place, then of course we will go to parliament for a vote.”

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