The vaccines minister has defended the government’s plan to bring in Covid passports for nightclubs and other venues this month – but admitted it “pained” him to introduce something which “goes against everything I believe in”.
Nadhim Zahawi confirmed nightclubs and large-scale venues in England would be forced to require proof of two Covid jabs as a condition of entry from the end of September, but conceded he had his own reservations.
The minister suggested MPs would still get a vote on the policy, which backbenchers described as “authoritarian” and difficult for the hospitality industry to implement at such short notice.
“It pains me to have to have to stand at this dispatch box and have to implement something that goes against the DNA of this minister and his prime minister – but we are living through difficult times,” Mr Zahawi told parliament on Wednesday.
Insisting the government did not want to “curtail people’s freedoms”, he added: “It’s difficult for me to do – it goes against everything I believe in. But it’s the right thing to do.”
Despite his own reservations, Mr Zahawi claimed the policy was needed to prevent large venues from acting as hosts for “super-spreader” spikes in Covid infections.
Conservative MP William Wragg accused the minister of talking “rubbish” and starting a “needless fight” with MPs over the certification plan.
Accusing him of “defending the indefensible”, Mr Wragg told him: “I don’t believe [Mr Zahawi] believes a word of what he’s just uttered because I remember him very persuasively stating my position … that this measure would be discriminatory.”
MPs warned of potential “chaos” ahead, after the minister failed to provide details of what other venues or events may fall under the planned requirement – with sports matches, music concerts and conferences also thought to be under consideration.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “We are weeks way from implementation but there was no clarity on these plans and businesses are anxious. How and when will they decide which businesses must implement certification?”
Ms Rayner warned against the expansion of the plan beyond large-scale venues – urging the minister to assure the public “no-one will be required to have a Covid vaccination pass to access essential services”.
But Mr Zahawi caused head-shaking among Tory colleagues when he said there will be “some essential services which will not need” people to show proof of jabs – heightening their fears the proposals could be widened to other venues.
The vaccines minister said the government would be “confirming more details in due course,” and claimed the government “does not see this as a long-term power grab to restrict people’s liberties”.
Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael – who asked an urgent question on vaccine passports on Wednesday – demanded that the government hold a vote on the “authoritarian” plan. “This House must have a chance to make its voice heard.”
Mr Zahawi said there would be “appropriate parliamentary scrutiny” of the plan, after he was reminded that MPs had already been promised a vote.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has pushed ahead with plans to introduce vaccine passports at nightclubs and large events north of the border later this month. Scots can now download or receive a paper QR code that shows their Covid vaccination status.
Earlier this week Boris Johnson joked about Michael Gove’s recent visit to a nightclub dance floor in Aberdeen – telling the 1922 Committee that he “sent ministers to enjoy” the newly opened clubs.
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