Boris Johnson faces revolt over prospect of vaccine passports

Boris Johnson is facing a renewed backlash within his party over the "threat" of domestic vaccine passports, with demands for MPs to be recalled from their holidays to debate the proposal.

By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent
Sunday, 1st August 2021, 3:28 pm
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a London-based summit to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Picture date: Thursday July 29, 2021.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a London-based summit to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Picture date: Thursday July 29, 2021.

Andrew Bridgen, one of 43 Conservative MPs to sign a declaration opposing vaccine passports, said Parliament should be recalled from its summer recess if ministers are "serious" about asking people to show proof of their vaccine status to gain entry to domestic venues and events.

The call means cross-party backing is emerging for the Commons to return before September.

Last week, the Liberal Democrats, said a change rolled out to the NHS app, allowing users to prove they had been double-jabbed to access domestic settings - as well as for international travel - warranted a recall.

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Conservative grandee Sir David Lidington, who was de facto deputy prime minister under Theresa May, added his voice to growing numbers in the Tory Party who are concerned about the prospect of vaccine passports, which are being used in some European countries, including Denmark and France.

The former cabinet minister told Times Radio that introducing a "Government certificate of approval" to access certain events would set a "dangerous precedent".

The Prime Minister has announced that he intends to change the rules in September so that only those who are fully vaccinated can attend nightclubs, in a move designed to increase the take-up of vaccination among young people.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), about two-thirds of people aged 18 to 29 in England have received a first dose.

The nightclub stipulations would be stricter than the coronavirus status certificates used at some mass events in recent months, with clubbers not allowed to use proof of a negative Covid-19 test or evidence of having had the virus to gain entry.

But Mr Johnson was warned by one of his backbenchers that he faced an "embarrassing defeat" if he put the "authoritarian" proposal to a vote in the Commons.

North West Leicestershire MP, Mr Bridgen, told LBC: "I think if the Government is serious about the threat of bringing in domestic vaccine passports then, of course, Parliament should be recalled.

"This is a very serious infringement on people's liberties, it is basically unprecedented in this country, and I and a number of colleagues would oppose it."

There are also ethical concerns, with professor of medical ethics Dominic Wilkinson telling the same radio station the idea of using Covid passes as a "stick to punish" those who have not yet opted to get vaccinated was "ethically flawed".

Mr Bridgen suggested the Government had looked to change tack in its approach to enticing young people to get jabbed because it knew objections to vaccine passes were growing.

Labour shadow environment secretary, Luke Pollard, said the party was "very cautious" about domestic Covid passports, with leader Sir Keir Starmer ruling out supporting them for use in "everyday life", setting up the possibility of a Government defeat on the policy.

Mr Bridgen said: "I personally don't think it would get through the House of Commons in any event and that's why the Government has moved on to this carrot inducements for young people."

The so-called "inducements" will see young people offered vouchers and discounts for popular takeaways and taxi rides in exchange for getting a jab.

Uber, Bolt, Deliveroo and Pizza Pilgrims are among the brands who will be offering incentives to encourage youngsters to get inoculated, DHSC has announced.

Taxi app firm Uber will offer discounted Uber rides and meals on its Uber Eats platform for young adults who receive a vaccine, while Deliveroo is planning to give vouchers to young people who get jabbed.

Labour MP Mr Pollard, who dubbed the offer "kebabs for jabs", said he doubted the concept "is going to be enough to get that last 30% of young people" vaccinated, and called for youngsters to be given more of a role in leading the campaign to get protected from the virus.

The rumblings over vaccine passports have coincided with a row over travel restrictions, with reports that the Chancellor has warned the Prime Minister the UK's border policy is "out of step" with international rivals and is hurting the economy.

Rishi Sunak, according to the Sunday Times, is said to be calling for Britain to take advantage of its successful vaccination programme by opening up further.

The newspaper quotes a source, who it claims is familiar with the letter, as saying: "Rishi has called time on the travel restrictions."

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said it showed the two most senior figures in Government were "in open disagreement" and accused the Tories of being "in chaos over their border policy".

The report comes before ministers are due to meet next week to set the travel rules that will be in place for most of August.

Analysts have predicted that Spain - the UK's most popular tourist destination - could be placed on the amber-plus list, meaning those returning would have to self-isolate for 10 days, even if they are double-jabbed.

There is speculation that France, the first country to be given the "amber-plus" designation, might be promoted back to amber when the Government updates the travel lists on Thursday, restoring the ability for those with both vaccine shots to skip self-isolation.

Government data released on Saturday showed that a further 71 people had died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, while a further 26,144 lab-confirmed Covid cases were also recorded.

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