A ‘time limit’ of less than a year could be imposed on the vaccine passport scheme to head off a Tory revolt on the issue, the Mail can reveal.
Boris Johnson will give the green light on Monday to the development of a system of ‘vaccine certification’ as he looks to reinvigorate the economy.
Ministers believe the scheme may be essential in reopening venues such as theatres and stadiums which rely on large crowds.
But the idea of creating a new ‘Checkpoint Britain’ has led to a fierce cross-party backlash, with 72 MPs yesterday signing a pledge to oppose the ‘divisive and discriminatory’ scheme.
Some MPs are opposed to vaccine certification suggested by the PM which could be needed for Britons to return to restaurants
There was also a huge outcry over the plans yesterday, with a litany of critics branding the idea as oppressive.
The policy was even criticised by a Government adviser, with Professor Robert West warning they would give people a false sense of security.
The scale of the opposition presents a potential major problem for Mr Johnson if the plans require primary legislation to enact them.
And last night, a Whitehall source told the Mail ministers would try to win round furious Tory MPs by reassuring them that any new passport scheme would be temporary.
While no decision has been taken on how long any scheme should last, the source said it was likely to be no more than a year.
‘It will be time-limited and I think the duration of the scheme will be measured in months,’ the source said.
‘The party will not wear any longer.’
Ministers believe the scheme may be essential in reopening venues such as theatres and stadiums (pictured) which rely on large crowds
The move came ahead of a major announcement by the PM on Monday where he will address not just vaccine passports, but the Government plans for holidays and the next phase of lockdown. In other developments last night:
- The PM prepared to confirm on Monday that the next round of unlocking will go ahead on April 12, with non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms all allowed to reopen;
- Government sources warned that foreign travel could be limited to no more than a handful of ‘green-rated’ countries under a new traffic light system to be unveiled on Monday;
- Labour appeared to harden its position against vaccine passports, with shadow business spokesman Lucy Powell saying they could result in ‘the worst of all worlds’;
- Hospitality firms launched legal action against the Government over rules that will only allow them to serve customers outdoors from April 12;
- The PM urged people not to meet indoors this weekend even if they have been fully vaccinated, warning that the vaccines are ‘not giving 100 per cent protection’;
- Pub bosses warned that just 40 per cent of venues may reopen this month as the majority do not have enough outdoor space to be viable without the option of serving customers indoors.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden yesterday defended the idea of so-called ‘Covid status certification’, saying it could help people get back to ‘doing the things they love’, such as going to the theatre or attending live concerts and sports events.
Ministers are hoping to pilot the use of vaccine passports at major events within weeks, with the FA Cup final and the World Snooker Championship among those being considered for trials.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has defended the idea of so-called ‘Covid status certification’ as it could help people return to ‘what they love’ such as theatres
Mr Dowden stressed that vaccine status is only one element of the scheme, with people also able to show a negative Covid test or prove they have already had the virus to gain entry.
He told the BBC: ‘This is not about a vaccine passport, this is about looking at ways of proving that you are Covid secure, whether you have had a test or had the vaccine. Clearly, no decisions have been made on that, because we have to weigh up different factors, the ethical considerations and so on, but it may be a way of ensuring we can get more people back doing the things they love.’
But Tory critics of the idea yesterday stepped up their opposition – and warned that a time limit would not be enough to tackle their concerns.
Former minister Steve Baker warned that any temporary scheme could be renewed – and pointed out that income tax had started life as a temporary measure.
Mr Baker, deputy chairman of the 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of MPs, said: ‘MPs and the public shouldn’t kid themselves. The state has always wanted ID cards, so this scheme would be about as temporary as income tax – in other words, permanent.’
Fellow Tory Andrew Bridgen said backbench opposition was based on principle rather than the duration of any scheme.
Mr Bridgen described the idea as a ‘vision of hell’, adding: ‘Who would have thought the British public would ever have to show their papers to go to the pub? The whole idea is like something out of North Korea, and I hope that the strength of feeling, not just on the Conservative benches but across Parliament will stop the Government heading off in this direction.’
Boris Johnson is expected to vaccine passports and Government plans for holidays and the next phase of lockdown on Monday
Some 41 Conservative MPs signed the pledge against vaccine passports organised by the pressure group Big Brother Watch – enough to wipe out the Government’s 80-strong majority.
One MP said the fate of vaccine passports was now ‘in Keir Starmer’s hands’.
The Labour leader suggested this week the idea of vaccine passports went against the ‘British instinct’, but party sources said voting decisions would depend on the detail of the Government’s plans.
Shami Chakrabarti, the former shadow attorney general, launched an impassioned attack on the idea of creating a ‘Checkpoint Britain’.
Baroness Chakrabarti, a former director of the civil rights group Liberty, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘It’s dangerous, it’s discriminatory, it’s counter-productive… It’s one thing to have a passport to travel internationally, that is a privilege, even a luxury, but participating in local community life is a fundamental right.’
Professor West, a member of a sub-group of the Government’s expert scientific committee Sage, said the ‘balance of evidence’ was against the idea.
He told Times Radio it would be ‘discriminatory’ to require vaccine certificates in everyday situations such as bars and restaurants, as some people are unable to have the vaccine.
He added that the scheme could give a ‘false sense of security’ to people who might fail to understand that the vaccine cannot give 100 per cent protection against disease.