Ministers today sparked speculation of a potential climbdown on domestic vaccine passports as they insisted the Government is ‘concentrating on ticketed, big events’.
Paul Scully, the Small Business Minister, said the work on so-called ‘Covid Status Certification’ is focused on major events which are ‘tougher to get back to a semblance of normal rather than the high streets’ and hospitality settings like pubs.
His comments will inevitably prompt scrutiny after it was revealed yesterday that British shoppers might be forced to show the documents to go clothes shopping.
Downing Street had refused to rule out allowing non-essential shops to demand proof of jab status as it faced an ever-escalating backlash against the plans.
Some 40 Tory MPs have made clear they are against domestic vaccine passports, warning that introducing the checks in everyday life would create a ‘two tier’ nation.
Labour is also increasingly critical of the proposals with a leaked briefing note for the party’s MPs stating ‘on the basis of what we’ve seen we would oppose domestic vaccine passports’.
The combination of Labour opposition and a 40-strong Tory rebellion had sparked speculation that Mr Johnson could lose a vote on the issue in the House of Commons.
However, he was handed a boost after Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said his party will ‘look constructively at any proposals’ that would help secure a return to normal life.
It came as Jeremy Hunt, the Tory former health secretary and chairman of the Health Select Committee, said he believed the public will accept the documents if they are the ‘only way to socialise in public places safely’.
Boris Johnson, pictured during a visit to an AstraZeneca manufacturing centre in Macclesfield yesterday, is facing a Tory backlash over his domestic vaccine passports plans
Small Business Minister Paul Scully said the Government is ‘concentrating on ticketed, big events’ in relation to vaccine passports
The initial findings of a Government review on how the passports could be used left the door open to the documents being required for access to pubs and restaurants.
Many Tory MPs support the use of vaccine passports for international travel but are vehemently opposed to using them in everyday life because of privacy and civil liberties concerns.
The Government has said the documents would consist of a mix of vaccination, testing and immunity data.
The system will be trialled at a series of events pilots in the coming weeks but they will initially only check testing data.
Mr Scully was asked during an interview on Sky News what his understanding is of where the passports could be used and whether they could be used by small businesses.
He replied: ‘The Prime Minister has been really clear. When we open non-essential retail and hospitality next week there will be no requirements for certification, there will be no requirement for certification come May 17 when we get to stage three as well.
‘What is being looked at is the entire gamut around the ethics and the practicalities of a certification programme, especially for ticketed events, bigger events and that is why it linked to the events research programme which is doing its work through this month and is due to report back next month.
‘So there is plenty of discussion, plenty of debate to look at before any decisions are taken.’
Pushed again on whether small businesses would likely have to deal with the passports issue, Mr Scully said: ‘Well, as I said, the work that is being done at the moment is concentrating on ticketed, big events and those kind of things because they are tougher to get back to a semblance of normal rather than the high streets with non-essential retail and hospitality including pubs.
‘That is where the work is being done at the moment. As I say there is a lot more work to be done, a lot more discussion and debate to be had on that over the coming weeks.’
There is considerable Tory disquiet over the potential use of domestic vaccine passports, with the PM under pressure to guarantee a vote in the Commons on the issue.
But the potential backing of the SNP would likely be enough for Mr Johnson to see off a Conservative rebellion.
There are currently 44 SNP MPs which means the Tory revolt would have to grow to approximately 80 in order for the PM to lose.
It would mean that even if Labour opposed the documents Mr Johnson would likely still have enough votes to get over the line.
Mr Blackford told The Telegraph: ‘Obviously we’re keen to take steps to get back to normality, but in a way that is inclusive.
‘We would look constructively at any proposals that would help us get there, including Covid status checks. It is important that people are not excluded.
‘Therefore such checks would have to include people who have had a Covid test as well as those who are vaccinated.
‘When it comes to SNP MPs potentially voting on such matters in Westminster, these measures will affect Scots visiting friends or for work in England.’
Mr Blackford subsequently said that as things currently stand the SNP will not support the domestic plans.
He said: ‘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.’
It came after a leaked Labour note sent to the party’s MPs suggested Sir Keir Starmer is hardening his opposition to the documents.
The note, seen by the Huffington Post website, said: ‘On the basis of what we’ve seen we would oppose domestic vaccine passports. Labour’s focus would be on getting the vaccine out, fixing self-isolation and contact tracing.’
Sir Keir Starmer appears to be hardening his opposition to the documents with a briefing note to Labour MPs stating ‘on the basis of what we’ve seen we would oppose domestic vaccine passports’
Despite the high levels of opposition in Westminster to the idea of domestic vaccine passports, Mr Hunt said he believed the public would accept them.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Well, in normal times if you were being asked to show your health records or your Covid status before going into a pub or something like that it would be absolutely abhorrent.
‘But this is a pandemic. Now, it may not be necessary to do any of that if the vaccine programme is as successful as we hope and if cases fall to low enough levels.
‘But if the only way to socialise in public places safely is to ask people to demonstrate that they are not likely to be a risk to others then I think people are quite sensible and pragmatic about this kind of thing.’
The initial findings of a Government review on the certification scheme said the documents could have an ‘important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure’.
The Government ruled out using the documents to determine access to public transport or essential shops.
But the findings said ‘it is possible that COVID-status certification could also play a role in reducing social distancing requirements in other settings which people tend to visit more frequently, for example in hospitality settings’.