Boris Johnson’s plans for vaccine passports dealt blow by SNP opposition

Keir Starmer brands proposals for Covid status certificates ‘complete mess’

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 07 April 2021 17:32 BST
A patient receives a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine in south Wales
A patient receives a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine in south Wales (AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson’s chances of getting vaccine passports through parliament took another blow today, as the Scottish National Party announced it opposes the scheme currently under consideration by the government.

And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded the plans “a complete mess” after Downing Street failed to make clear whether “Covid-status certificates” would be required to enter pubs or non-essential shops.

But the prime minister insisted it was right to “look at all possibilities” for reopening social life in a safe way, while stopping short of committing himself to a passport scheme.

Starmer confirmed that Labour would vote against the proposals set out in an interim report on Monday, which said Covid certificates were “likely to become a feature of our lives” and could “potentially” be used to access nightclubs, festivals and sporting events.

The document indicated that their use may be optional for pubs and restaurants, but Mr Johnson’s official spokesman fuelled alarm by refusing to rule out the possibility that certificates - probably in the form of a smartphone app - might be required for clothes shopping. 

With Labour and Liberal Democrats committed to opposing the current proposals and 40 or more Tory MPs threatening to rebel, Mr Johnson’s hopes of a smooth passage through the Commons had been resting on the SNP backing the scheme or abstaining.

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Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday she was “open-minded” on the issue and would look “very carefully” at whether certification could help society return to normal after the pandemic.

But the SNP’s leader at Westminster Ian Blackford dashed Johnson’s hopes of winning his party’s support for the package set out on Monday.

“The UK government hasn’t published any firm proposals on Covid certificates, and the Tory position has been mired in confusion and contradiction,” said Mr Blackford.

“On the basis of the information available, SNP MPs would not support Tory plans due to serious concerns over ethics.

“Depending on the global context, there might be a need to consider means to facilitate international travel. Any such proposals could only be agreed in full consultation with the devolved governments.

“There also remain considerable issues to resolve on equity, ethics and privacy, which the UK government has not addressed. This is a matter of serious concern for the SNP.”

Speaking during a visit to Plymouth, Starmer confirmed that Labour would vote against the proposals as they stand.

“We do not support the government’s plans in their current form, it’s as simple as that,” said the Labour leader.

“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.

“There isn’t a real plan around this and what I fear it will be is another example of the government with a plan that doesn’t work, costing lots of taxpayer money, when I think the focus should be on getting as many people vaccinated as possible - that’s the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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”.

Mr Johnson again stressed that Covid status certificates would not be introduced for either the April 12 or May 17 steps on the road map, meaning they will not be in place until late June at the earliest.

The proposals outlined on Monday would involve certification to prove that an individual has either been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or has acquired immunity through infection within the previous six months.

Trials of possible schemes are to be carried out in cinemas, clubs and sports venues over the coming weeks before a review led by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove comes forward with firm proposals.

Downing Street yesterday stressed that no decision has yet been taken on whether to go ahead with an official Covid status scheme.

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