Boris Johnson wants domestic Covid passports in place by June 21 – but faces the prospect of an embarrassing Commons defeat after promising Tory rebels a vote on their introduction.
Michael Gove is said to have made the offer to furious backbenchers appalled at the idea of forcing Britons to prove their vaccination status to enter pubs and other social hubs.
Boris Johnson wants the scheme to be up and running for June 21, when the last social distancing measures are expected to be swept away.
But the move could backfire on the Government, with Labour continuing to threaten to side with any Conservatives who refuse to back the move.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said today that Labour had ‘many reservations’ about the use of vaccine passports in the UK and questioned whether ‘we need a sledgehammer to crack a nut here’.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Mr Gove is heading up a Government review into the scheme.
He spoke to MPs about the measures on the phone last week after concerns were raised about the plans – which were blasted as ‘absurd’ and ‘unworkable’ by pub bosses.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, today blasted vaccine passports as ‘intrusive, costly and unnecessary’.
He said the UK is currently in an ‘enviable position where more than half the population has got antibodies’ – with the number of people with jabs continuing to grow.
Boris Johnson could lose a key vote on vaccine passports after Michael Gove (left) promised critical MPs they will get their say over the Government’s Covid plans. It comes as chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs Sir Graham Brady (right) today blasted vaccine passports as ‘intrusive, costly and unnecessary
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said today that Labour had ‘many reservations’ about the use of vaccine passports in the UK and questioned whether ‘we need a sledgehammer to crack a nut here’
Warning over ‘nightmare’ vaccine passports
Putting vaccine passports into law would be a ‘nightmare’ and require ‘enormous scrutiny’, an expert warned today.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told Times Radio that while in general they were a good thing if they made people feel a bit safer and more people were vaccinated, they needed ‘enormous scrutiny’.
He said: ‘I find it difficult to have the vaccine passport conversation, and I’ve had quite a lot of these discussions of policy advice level, without getting into the detail because who of us wouldn’t think that vaccine passports were in general, a good thing, if people felt a bit safer and more people were vaccinated and we had more assurance of that?
‘And yet, one or two sentences into discussion you get rather sort of bogged down at the devil is in the detail, and there are an awful lot of confounders there where you could make some very, very poor legislation.’
Asked if vaccination passports will require new laws which could be difficult to word correctly, Prof Altmann added: ‘I think the detail is an absolute nightmare and, without being pedantic or negative, requires enormous scrutiny.’
Ms Reeves today told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘I have reservations, the Labour Party has reservations around the introduction of vaccine passports.
‘We have an amazing take-up of the vaccine, it is being rolled out incredibly successfully by the NHS – it is not totally clear to me that we need a sledgehammer to crack a nut here.
‘The big priority has got to be ensuring that everybody is vaccinated so we can get back as quickly as possible to the things we love doing, whether that is going to the pub, the restaurant, the football match or the concert.
‘The priority should be ensuring that the vaccine is rolled out, that we have a Test and Trace (system) that works properly but the Government does not have a great track record in introducing new IT systems and what we don’t want to see is more taxpayers’ money wasted, more bureaucracy and red tape for businesses who have already gone through an incredibly tough year.
‘So we will see what the Government bring forward and their rationale for it – we’ll keep an open mind but at the moment we have many reservations around what the Government looks like it might be suggesting.’
One Tory MP who took part in the call told The Daily Telegraph: ‘Michael made a very clear statement on the call with MPs that there would be debates and votes before anything like this came into force.’
In a cross-party letter on Friday, 72 MPs – 41 of which were Tories – branded the Covid passport idea ‘divisive and discriminatory’.
If more than 60 Conservative MPs vote against the measures – alongside all members of the opposition – the vaccine passport plan would fail to get through the Commons in an embarrassing defeat for the PM.
Health minister Edward Argar today denied that the Government had changed its mind on the use of so-called vaccine passports, after Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi previously called them discriminatory.
Asked on BBC Breakfast whether the Government had changed its mind, Mr Argar said: ‘I don’t think it is that at all.
‘I think it is right that we look at this and see if there is a way that, while balancing all of those practical, ethical and fairness considerations, is there a way this could, in the short term, speed up our reopening of the country and getting back to doing the things we love?’
Labour leader Keir Starmer last week hinted that his party could line up alongside Tory rebels to oppose the idea, and suggested needing a passport to go to the pub would be un-British.
Mr Johnson will give the green light today for further work on schemes that require people to show they are at low risk of harbouring the virus.
Government sources said the ‘focus’ would be on enabling certain businesses to reopen without the need for social distancing rules that would make them economically unviable.
Ministers have ruled out making the passports compulsory in hospitality venues.
But, raising the prospect of Covid passports brought in by stealth, a Government source told the Mail that those who do accept them could reap earlier benefits.
‘The focus is on high risk settings like large events and nightclubs that may not be able to operate commercially with social distancing,’ the source said.
Yesterday it was revealed that the Government is set to launch of a pilot scheme that will use the FA Cup Final and a Liverpool nightclub to test ways for the UK’s nightlife scene to burst back into life after Covid.
Michael Gove promised MPs who are critical of the vaccine passport system – which could see pubs forced to demand proof of a Covid jab prior to entry – a chance to vote against Mr Johnson’s proposals. Pictured: Boris Johnson
Events will take place in April and May where proof of a jab will be required for entry, to avoid the need for social distancing.
They include 21,000 fans at the FA Cup Final at Wembley, spectators at the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield and a mass participation run in Hatfield, Hertforshire.
And sports minister Nigel Huddleston confirmed yesterday afternoon: ‘It is not just about certification actually, in fact the earlier programmes, the earlier pilots almost certainly won’t involve any element of certification but it will involve testing, making sure people are tested before and after the event.
‘What we will be looking at is the mitigation measures, so the ventilation, one-way systems, hygiene measures, all of those kind of things to help inform long term decision making.’
Ministers are due to report with their initial findings on vaccine passports today.
But it is understood that no decision on the measure has yet been made regarding whether pubs will have to force drinkers to show Covid passports, with evidence still being assessed.
One Tory MP – who asked not to be named – last week said on the potential for the Government to lose a vote on vaccine passports: ‘If Labour are not onside that puts it in a totally different position.’
Another Tory MP warned against rolling out domestic certificates as they said some people may be unable to have a jab and therefore the policy would result in an ‘unfair two-tier system’.
Ipsos Mori revealed that 62 per cent of Britons would back their introduction for people wanting to go for a pint or a meal with their family and 63 per cent want them to be used for people going to the gym.
Almost eight in 10 people (78 per cent) polled supported people having to show proof of a coronavirus vaccine to travel abroad or visit people in care homes.
And there was strong backing for them to be required to work as a frontline NHS medic or in a care home (79 per cent) as well as in schools (69 per cent).
But Tory civil liberties campaigner and former minister David Davis blasted the idea.
He said he agreed with Sir Keir that they were ‘un-British’, telling LBC radio: ‘We wouldn’t do this for flu, flu can kill up to 25,000 people a year.
Millions could go to pubs with no social distancing under plans to let drinkers use mobile phones to prove they are free of Covid. This graphic shows how the app would have worked
Entry to festivals and major sporting events will only be allowed to those with either an NHS app or certificate showing they have had a covid jab, the Prime Minister is expected to announce on Monday (file image)
‘Vaccines will reduce this illness to killing a lot less than that every year, then we will have to accommodate it, but not by giving up our basic freedoms.’
Yesterday’s Covid data showed a further ten people died after testing positive in a 47 per cent drop on last Sunday – but Wales and Northern Ireland’s data is not included due to Easter delays.
Sunday marked the second day in a row that just ten deaths had been recorded.
The Government’s official data also revealed a further 2,297 people tested positive for coronavirus yesterday, a 40.5 per cent drop on that day last week.
But cases and deaths figures over Easter were affected by incomplete data and a longer-than-usual lag in reporting.
Northern Ireland and Wales did not report any deaths or cases because of the delays.
As Britain saw its first weekend since lockdown rules were relaxed to allow outdoor mixing in groups of six, the country’s vaccine total triumphantly hit 36,904,755 on Saturday.
A further 97,328 people were given their first dose, while 176,240 were given their second.
April is expected to the be a month of second doses because millions are due their second jab as the 12 week deadline approaches.