A group of about 40 Tory MPs are believed to be ready to rebel against the plan to make full vaccination a requirement of entry into nightclubs and other large, crowded venues from the end of September.
With the Lib Dems already opposed to the use of mandatory vaccine passports, Labour’s opposition could spell disaster for the government when a vote comes to the Commons.
Sir Keir Starmer used PMQs on Wednesday to criticise the prime minister’s decision to focus on vaccination alone, rather than allowing people to show they recently received a negative test.
A Labour spokesperson later said: “We need to see the detail of what the government puts forward regarding vaccine passports.”
But they made clear Labour was opposed to the plan to make vaccination status the be-all and end-all of certification policy. “We oppose the use of Covid vaccination status for everyday access to venues and services. It’s costly, open to fraud and is impractical.”
The Labour spokesperson added: “Being double jabbed doesn’t prove you aren’t carrying the virus. Testing for access to venues would be more efficient, and would give people and businesses more certainty.”
In a fiery clash with Mr Johnson at PMQs, Sir Keir said: “I remember when [the prime minister] used to say he’d eat an ID card if he ever had to produce one, and now he is introducing one.”
Sir Keir added: “Why is it okay to go to a nightclub for the next six weeks without proof of a vaccine or a test, and then from September, it will only be okay to get into a nightclub if you’ve got a vaccine ID card?”
Mr Johnson accused Sir Keir of trying to “score cheap political points” and noted: “Everybody can see we have to wait until the end of September … when [young people] will all have got the two jabs, before we consider something like asking people to be doubled jabbed before they can go into a nightclub.”
Reacting to Labour’s statement opposing vaccine passports, the Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said he was “glad” that Sir Keir had appeared to come out against the government’s plans.
Mr Carmichael told The Independent: “Labour under Keir Starmer cannot help but swivel because they haven’t decided which way the wind is blowing. We need a national campaign this summer to scrap these authoritarian proposals. Liberal Democrats will oppose these illiberal vaccine passport plans – no ifs, no buts.”
A group of 42 Conservative MPs have reportedly signed a Big Brother Watch declaration against Covid status certification denying individuals “access to general services, businesses or jobs”. Dozens of Labour and Lib Dem MPs have also signed the declaration.
Earlier on Wednesday, a senior minister appealed to sceptical Tory MPs to consider vaccine passports for uniquely risky settings such as nightclubs – saying they were being proposed with the “heaviest of hearts”.
Welsh secretary Simon Hart said: “We only come up with regulations because we feel there is sufficient medical evidence, and the advice of Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance is so compelling that we are really left with no option.”
A vote on vaccine passports is not expected to take place before parliament breaks for its summer recess this Thursday, so it will not come before MPs until September.
Mr Carmichael said the Lib Dems hoped the government would not try to bundle the vote on vaccine passports into any wider Covid legislation as a way of pushing it through.
“This is a government that’s got a big majority, so if they were to resort to parliamentary shenanigans and bundling measures together to try to force vaccine passports through, it would signal that they have no confidence in their ability to convince people in an honest way,” the MP told The Independent.
The government’s policy was plunged deeper into confusion on Tuesday after a minister said they would not be required for pubs – only for Downing Street to insist the idea has not yet been ruled out.
Asked if pubs were among the venues where proof of double vaccination would be required, small business minister Paul Scully said: “No. We’re not saying crowded pubs at all.”
Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson later told reporters no decision had been made about “specific restrictions around settings”.
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