Prime Minister Faces Rebellion in Parliament Over Vaccine Passports – But Decision Will Likely Lie With Labour

Reports suggest that Boris Johnson could face a large revolt from his own MPs in a parliamentary vote on the introduction of domestic vaccine passports. But will it be enough? That likely depends on the Labour Party, which remains undecided. The Guardian has the story.

Tory MPs opposed to the plan for Covid passes to enter nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues said more than 40 Conservatives were prepared to defy the prime minister over civil liberties concerns, particularly as Number 10 has refused to rule out extending the passes to pubs and other sectors.

The scale of the rebellion could put any vote on a knife-edge if opposition parties also oppose the idea, which was proposed by Johnson on Monday in an extraordinary U-turn hours after clubs were allowed to open in England for the first time in 16 months.

At least 42 Tory MPs have signed a cross-party Big Brother Watch declaration against “Covid status certification to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs” in recent months. More MPs privately told the Guardian they were unlikely to back such a move, especially if it remained a vaccine-only pass that did not recognise a negative test result or evidence of antibodies.

The issue is likely to be raised on Wednesday at a meeting of the new 1922 Committee of backbenchers, which is now led by three sceptics of Covid passports. Nusrat Ghani and William Wragg were elected as new Vice-Chairs on Tuesday, joining the longtime Chairman, Sir Graham Brady. On Tuesday some Tory MPs threatened to boycott the Conservative party conference in October over fears Covid passports would be required.

However, Keir Starmer is still undecided about which way Labour will vote, despite the party leader having previously suggested Covid certificates would be against the “British instinct”.

Labour shadow ministers were locked in talks on Tuesday about the party’s position and were expected to have made a decision by Wednesday morning. If they oppose the passports, Johnson could face defeat in the Commons as the Liberal Democrats are also opposed.

However, senior Labour figures are believed to have argued that the situation has fundamentally changed since the party first set out its position. Cases are soaring, and jabs are being offered to young people and pregnant women who otherwise might have been excluded, reducing the argument that they are discriminatory. Ministers have promised exemptions for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Asked on Tuesday whether access to pubs and transport could eventually be subject to Covid passports, Johnson’s spokesperson said the Government was “going to use the coming weeks to look at the evidence, particularly both in the U.K. and globally before making a specific decision”.

Several Tory MPs spoke of their frustration. Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, said the policy was “without logic”, especially as having two jabs was currently not enough for people to avoid isolating after exposure to Covid.

Steve Baker, one of the main opponents of Covid passports, said: “There is nothing I can do or Conservatives can do if Labour continues to decline to oppose the Government’s illiberal policies. This is really now all about Sir Keir, who described this policy as un-British.” …

One MP said they had “no doubt” Johnson would insist on vaccine passports for the party’s conference, and that “as a result, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a number of Conservative MPs and activists refuse to attend”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A spokesperson for the Labour Party has said it will vote against.

Keir Starmer Remains on Fence About Whether to Oppose Vaccine Passports

When the Government holds a vote on vaccine passports, the support of the Labour benches will be vital for a victory (presuming that a decent number of Conservative MPs vote “no”). But Keir Starmer has yet to decide whether to back the Government over the introduction of such certification and was “really angry” that an interview he gave to the Telegraph last week foregrounded his criticism of the idea. The Guardian has the story.

Keir Starmer is weighing up whether to support Covid status certificates in a vote within weeks for which he could lend the Government crucial support to pass one of its most controversial coronavirus policies.

The Labour leader has been hesitant to endorse a proposal that would mean people would have to prove they had been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or antibodies from prior infection in order to access venues such as theatres and sports stadiums. …

Labour is trying to keep its options open given that details about the plan are scarce, and will hope that attention remains on the splits within the Conservative party, where more than 40 of Boris Johnson’s backbenchers have branded the idea “divisive and discriminatory” and vowed to oppose it.

But after dozens of prominent Labour backbenchers, including the former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, also pledged to vote against the certificates, Starmer is being forced to decide whether he should give the Government the support it may need.

A Labour source said Starmer’s team was “worried that this issue splits the PLP [parliamentary Labour party] just like it splits the Tory party” and was “really angry” that an interview he gave to the Telegraph last week was headlined on his criticism of the Covid status certificates.

They admitted: “There isn’t really a consensus yet” within the party, though they predicted Labour would probably end up supporting the certificates “but probably not make much of a song and dance about it”.

The “reservations are real”, says another Labour source – but mainly around the “digital infrastructure” of Covid passports, rather than about their implication on liberty.

That’s about as much “opposition” as we can expect from the notional Leader of the Opposition.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Labour has called vaccine passports “discriminatory” and appears to be leaning towards opposing the Government on a Covid ID card scheme. The Guardian has the story.

The Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, accused the Government of “creating confusion” by not explaining clearly where the documents may be needed, after Boris Johnson confirmed they were being investigated but would not be introduced earlier than mid-May.

“I’m not going to support a policy that, here in my Leicester constituency, if someone wants to go into Next or H&M, they have to produce a vaccination certificate on their phone, on an app,” Ashworth told BBC Breakfast. “I think that’s discriminatory.”

He added it made sense to ask people to get tested before going to events such as a football game, but warned that forcing everyone to carry an “ID card” proving they had been jabbed was not fair.

Worth reading in full.