Johnson defends approach to Covid-19 passports in face of mounting opposition

David Hughes and Sam Blewett, PA

Boris Johnson insisted that “all possibilities” will be examined to open up the economy as resistance mounted against proposals to introduce coronavirus health certificates.

Labour and the SNP have joined Tory rebels in ruling out backing the proposals as they stand.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the current state of play on so-called vaccine passports a “complete mess” on Wednesday, warning that they could be a vast waste of taxpayers’ money when the focus should be on administering jabs.

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Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer hit out at the ‘vaccine passport’ proposals during a visit to Plymouth (Ben Birchall/PA)

He joined SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford in saying their opposition MPs would not back the plans in their current form if the Prime Minister put them to a Commons vote.

But the Prime Minister, on a visit to Cornwall, said it was a responsible approach for any government to “look at the possibility of making sure that we can continue to open up all sectors of the economy in a safe way down the rest of this year and, you know, we will look at all possibilities”.

He again stressed that Covid status certificates would not be introduced for either the April 12 or May 17 steps on the road map, which will see hospitality venues in England open outdoors initially and then indoors.

A Government review into “Covid status certification” said they could “potentially play a role” in settings such as theatres, nightclubs and mass events, and might also be used in pubs and restaurants to reduce social distancing restrictions.

Although the documents would not be required on public transport and essential shops and services, the review leaves open the possibility of customers having to show their certificate to enter other retailers.

The documents would record – either on an NHS app or a paper certificate – whether someone has had a vaccine, a recent negative coronavirus test or natural immunity having recovered from Covid-19.

During a visit to Plymouth, Sir Keir told broadcasters: “We do not support the Government’s plans in their current form, it’s as simple as that.

“In fact the Government’s plans seem to be changing on an almost daily basis. Only a few weeks ago the Prime Minister was saying he was thinking of vaccine passports to go to the pub – now he says isn’t. One day he’s talking about tests – then it’s certificates. It’s a complete mess.”

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Mr Blackford earlier said ministers must address the “considerable issues” surrounding certificates on “equity, ethics and privacy”, as SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon considers their use for Scotland.

“The UK Government hasn’t published any proposals yet, and the Tory position has been mired in confusion and contradiction. On the basis of the information available, there is not a proposition in front of us that SNP MPs could support,” Mr Blackford said.

Mr Johnson said on Monday that he would “certainly” consult Parliament on certification plans if they go ahead.

Their use is opposed by at least 40 Conservative MPs, which could be enough to defeat the Government with the support of opposition parties.

However, Downing Street sources did not rule out suggestions that the use of domestic certificates could be bundled up with a vote on international vaccine passports.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
(PA Graphics)

Such a move could boost the Prime Minister’s chances of winning a vote, because the international passports are far less controversial and would improve the likelihood of overseas holidays.

The Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Conservative lockdown sceptics has been angered by the possible introduction of vaccine certificates.

CRG deputy chairman Steve Baker, a Tory former minister, has said the requirement to show documents would be “un-British” and warned the country could become a “miserable dystopia of Checkpoint Britain”.

The Liberal Democrats are also opposed to their introduction.

Party leader Sir Ed Davey told the PA news agency: “Vaccine passports are actually Covid identity cards by the back door. They take away people’s freedoms.

“We think they’re unworkable and we think they’re unnecessary and illiberal.”