Publicans uneasy over only allowing access to vaccinated customers

Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Publicans have criticised Boris Johnson’s suggestion that it could be left up to them to decide whether to only permit customers who have been vaccinated against coronavirus.

The boss of the Shepherd Neame chain said on Thursday that making jabs mandatory for entry to pubs is a “fairly poorly thought out idea”, as trade bodies suggested the idea was “simply unworkable”.

But fresh details emerged of a strong incentive for pubs to adopt checks of health certificates under plans being considered in the Government’s review into their possible use.

Though no decision has been made, the PA news agency was told pubs that may be allow to scrap social distancing rules if they check customers’ certificates at the door, allowing them to operate far more profitably.

The Prime Minister said on Wednesday that it “may be up to individual publicans” whether they require customers to have a “Covid vaccination certificate”.

Tory lockdown sceptic Steve Baker warned the move could create a “two-tier Britain”, while Labour frontbencher Ed Miliband said it would be wrong to leave the public health measure up to pub landlords.

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame pub group, ruled out making vaccines mandatory for entry to his premises.

“I think it’s absolutely fine to exclude people where there is a situation of bad behaviour or drunkenness, and that’s already enshrined in law,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But if you’re going to exclude people for what they are, or what they have not done, that’s a wholly different issue which does touch on discrimination, civil liberties, and in this case data protection issues.”

He warned the move could also see bar staff “subject to intimidation”, adding: “This is fraught with difficulty, I think, and it is, in my view, a fairly poorly thought out idea at this stage.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is reviewing the possible use of coronavirus status certificates under plans to ease England’s lockdown.

The use of certificates may not be as straightforward as vaccine or no vaccine, as recent negative test status may also be considered.

A Whitehall source said that landlords may be able to scrap social distancing if they check Covid health certificates on entry, in a move that would allow them to operate at much higher capacity.

But, under the suggestion being considered, those who did not want to enforce the checks would be allowed to reopen but would have to ensure social distancing is upheld.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality trade body, said it is “crucial” that visits to pubs and restaurants are not subject to mandatory vaccination certification.

“It is simply unworkable, would cause conflict between staff and customers and almost certainty result in breaches of equality rules,” she said.

Pub staff wearing PPE
Staff wore PPE after pubs reopened last summer following the first lockdown (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The British Beer and Pub Association said the requirement would not be “appropriate or necessary”.

Mr Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “If this was really a public health measure, you wouldn’t be saying ‘Well, it is going to be a landlord discretion’ – you’d be saying ‘This is the Government’s view, this is what’s safe’.”

Announcing the review of the certificates in February, Mr Johnson said there are “deep and complex” ethical issues surrounding requiring vaccinations for certain activities.

Former chief whip Mark Harper, who chairs the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory lockdown-sceptics, told Sky News there are “significant problems” with the need to “show papers to go to the pub”.

CRG deputy chairman Mr Baker, a former minister, urged the Government not to “fall into this ghastly trap”.

“Whether the state legislates for it, recommends it or simply allows it, the result will be the same: a two-tier Britain that prevents pregnant women from taking part in society, given that the Government is telling them not to take the vaccine, or one where we turn back the clock and tolerate businesses turning away customers from communities which have shown an unfortunate hesitancy to take up the offer of a vaccine,” he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the Government’s “latest wheeze” on Covid certificates is “the worst of all worlds”.

“As well as burdening struggling pubs with extra cost, the idea that businesses can voluntarily bar certain customers, who may not even have been offered a vaccine, is deeply illiberal,” he said.