Boris Johnson faces the biggest challenge of his premiership to date if he tries to ram through controversial plans for vaccine passports that have incensed MPs of all parties.
The Prime Minister is on a collision course with more than 70 backbenchers who have signed a pledge railing against the ‘divisive and discriminatory’ certification scheme.
Forty-one Tory MPs – enough to wipe out the Government’s majority – have joined forces with 22 Labour MPs and 10 Lib Dems to oppose the measures on grounds it infringes civil liberties.
It means a crunch Commons vote likely hinges on Sir Keir Starmer, who this week said vaccine passports went against the ‘British instinct’ but refused to commit to whipping his MPs either way.
Downing Street insists no plans for domestic vaccine passports have been confirmed, but ministers have been seen to be pitch-rolling in recent weeks and the scheme is reportedly a ‘done deal’.
Some companies are already pressing ahead, and the managing director of Royal Caribbean today said the cruise liner would be requiring guests to show documentation they have had their two doses.
Last night it emerged trials for vaccine passports could begin as soon as next month, with theatres, and stadiums are being lined up to pilot the controversial scheme under plans discussed by ministers.
As a rebellion against the plans gathered pace:
- Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said Covid would eventually have to be managed in a similar way to serious seasonal viruses such as flu;
- Cases continued to fall after pupils returned to school, in a boost for plans to press ahead with easing lockdown;
- Another 51 deaths and 4,479 cases were reported;
- An incredible 93 per cent of over-50s have now been vaccinated;
- Ministers appeared set to introduce a ‘traffic light’ system to open up flights to countries with low Covid rates;
- Police chiefs warned the public not to bend the rules this Easter weekend;
- Emmanuel Macron was accused of acting like an arrogant king over France’s new national lockdown.
Boris Johnson faces the biggest challenge to his premiership to date if he tries to ram through controversial plans for vaccine passports that have incensed MPs of all parties
Trials of vaccine passports could begin as soon as next month, the Mail can reveal. Pictured: A covid-safe pub lunch
How vaccination passports could work
What would I get?
Officials are working on an update of the NHS app which would allow people to scan their vaccine status at the door of a venue. A paper version is being developed for those who do not use a smartphone.
Is it popular?
One poll found 68 per cent would support the idea for theatres or indoor concerts, with just 18 per cent opposed. But businesses have raised concerns, with the trade body UK Hospitality branding it ‘unworkable’.
Do MPs back it?
Opposition is building, with a cross-party alliance of 72 MPs last night pledging to oppose the ‘divisive and discriminatory’ plan. Rebels include 40 Tories – enough to wipe out the Government’s majority. Labour has yet to say how it will vote and ministers believe they could force it through without primary legislation.
What about pubs?
Boris Johnson suggested last week that it could be left to individual landlords to decide whether to require vaccine certificates.
Possibly in the workplace. But the CBI warns it could prove a ‘legal minefield’ and damage relations.
When will it happen?
Possibly as soon as next month in theatres and stadiums. However a full rollout will not take place until all adults have been jabbed.
Pilot schemes will begin after work is completed on an updated version of the NHS Covid app which will let users prove they have been vaccinated.
Covid passports are being planned for events which could include the FA Cup final and other sporting events in May, according to the Telegraph.
The plan is a sign Mr Johnson will give vaccine passports the go-ahead on Monday, when he is due to report the interim results of a study led by Michael Gove.
If it is put to a vote, it could set the stage for a spectacular Commons showdown that pits the Government against powerful Tory figures such as Sir Iain Duncan Smith as well as Labour backbenchers including John McDonnell and the party’s former leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The cross-party pledge states: ‘We oppose the divisive and discriminatory use of Covid status certification to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs.’
Tory MP Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee and is also a signatory to the pledge, insisted the aim should be to return to normal life.
He said: ‘Covid-Status Certification would be divisive and discriminatory. With high levels of vaccination protecting the vulnerable and making transmission less likely, we should aim to return to normal life, not to put permanent restrictions in place.’
Former Tory ministers Esther McVey, Nus Ghani, Mark Harper and Harriett Baldwin are also threatening to join a Commons revolt.
The Conservative rebels have unlikely bedfellows in the Labour left including Mr Corbyn, John McDonnell and Baroness Chakrabarti, who branded the scheme a ‘tool of discrimination, oppression and bullying’ that would bring about ‘Checkpoint Britain’.
She told BBC Radio 4 this morning: ‘It’s dangerous, it’s discriminatory, it’s counter-productive. It seems to me, and many others, that on the one hand, if this level of intrusion into our lives were to be proportionate, then probably it’s not safe to open up the economy.
‘On the other hand, if it is safe to open up the economy, to come out of this lockdown and this crisis that we have been living under, if it is safe to do that, why create this tool of discrimination, oppression and bullying?’
Sir Keir has not made clear which way he will lean in any Commons vote.
His support for the Government throughout the crisis has meant a Tory rebellion has not cost ministers any votes.
But, amid pressure from his party to be more critical after a year in the job, he this week appeared queasy at the notion of vaccine passports.
He told The Telegraph: ‘My instinct is that… [if] we get the virus properly under control, the death rates are near zero, hospital admissions very, very low, that the British instinct in those circumstances will be against vaccine passports.
‘I think that this idea that we sort of outsource this to individual landlords is just wrong in principle.’
The plan to test vaccination passports, revealed by the Mail, is a sign that Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured on April 1 in Middlesborough) will give vaccine passports the green light Easter Monday when he reports the findings of a study led by Michael Gove
Wetherspoon boss says vaccine passports would be ‘the last straw’ for pubs
Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has said vaccine passports would be ‘the last straw’ for struggling pubs and force bar staff into a ‘bitter civil liberties war’ with customers.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Martin said ‘there is no justification for a passport system’.
The chairman of the pub chain said: ‘For many pubs, hanging on for dear life and devastated by G-force changes of direction, a complex and controversial passport scheme would be the last straw.
‘It would inevitably put pub staff in the frontline of a bitter civil liberties war, with some customers unwilling to be vaccinated or unable to have a jab for medical reasons.’
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, who also put his name to the pledge, said he hoped to turn the tide on ‘creeping authoritarianism’ from Downing Street.
He said: ‘As we start to get this virus properly under control we should start getting our freedoms back, vaccine passports – essentially Covid ID cards – take us in the other direction.’
The campaign has been backed by Big Brother Watch, Liberty, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Privacy International.
The vaccine passports row exploded last month when ministers confirmed they were considering the idea – after a string of denials.
Mr Johnson then suggested to MPs that they could eventually be needed to visit the pub. He defended the idea, saying ‘there’s definitely going to be a world in which international travel will use vaccine passports’.
During a trip to Middlesbrough yesterday, he told reporters: ‘You can see already that other countries, the aviation industry, are interested in those and there’s a logic to that.’
Well-connected Telegraph columnist Fraser Nelson believes it’s a ‘done deal’.
The Government has insisted no final decisions have been taken on whether Covid-status certification could play a role in reopening the economy.
A spokeswoman said: ‘The review is considering a range of issues, including the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification.’
Meanwhile, UK Hospitality (UKH), the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) and the British Institute of Innkeepers (BII) – have also raised their concerns over the proposals, describing the measures as ‘impractical burdens’.
They also objected to Government guidance asking every hospitality customer aged over 16 to give their contact details to staff or check in via the NHS Covid-19 app once restrictions are eased.
In a joint statement, the pub representatives 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.
‘It’s unfair to single out our sector again with these added impractical burdens that will have economic consequences and risk our recovery.’
The Covid-19 vaccination pilot scheme will begin after work on an updated NHS Covid app is completed, that will show a person’s coronavirus vaccination status. Pictured: A person holds up a smart phone with a mock-up of a vaccine passport
But cruise operators Royal Caribbean have embraced the plans and will be requiring passengers to have two jabs.
Managing director Ben Bouldin said: ‘The numbers of vaccinations the UK is managing to achieve is really strong.
‘We recognise that not everyone will have been vaccinated through this summer but we know a good number of our guests would have been and we’re asking to prove they’ve had their two vaccines and we’ll be asking two weeks since their second vaccine.
‘And we’re asking them to prove their vaccine appointment with them or a letter from their doctor. And if the Government continues to finds a successful green card, that would be helpful but we’ll find a solution either way.’
Elsewhere, the British Medical Association (BMA) has urged people to stick to lockdown rules during the Easter period.
Large crowds have been seen gathering in beauty spots in England over the past few days since outdoor social distancing rules were relaxed on Monday, while Scotland’s stay at home order has been lifted as of Friday morning.
Dr Richard Jarvis, co-chair of the BMA public health medicine committee, said: ‘After a year of lockdowns it is only natural that people will want to spend time with friends and family as they enjoy the Easter holiday period.
‘While case rates have fallen, they still remain too high, especially in younger age groups which are yet to be vaccinated, for us to not follow the rules. No one should let down their guard.’
The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it had identified 30 cases of rare blood clot events associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine – out of 18.1 million doses administered up to and including March 24.