Boris Johnson’s plans to bring in mandatory Covid vaccine “passports” for crowded venues this autumn have been thrown into disarray after Labour signalled its opposition.
A group of around 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 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 full 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.”
He added: “That’s blindingly obvious to everyone, it’s common sense.”
Reacting to Labour’s statement opposing vaccine passports, the Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “It took him long enough, but I am glad that Keir Starmer has come out against vaccine passports.”
The MP added: “We need a united front against these illiberal and unworkable proposals and a national campaign through the summer to convince the government to change course.”
At 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 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.”
The policy on vaccine passports 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 are among the venues where proof of a double vaccination will be required, the small business minister Paul Scully said: “No. We’re not saying crowded pubs at all.”
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman later told reporters no decision had been made about “specific restrictions around settings”.