Boris Johnson could face a fight to introduce vaccine passports so people inoculated against coronavirus can go down the pub.
More than 70 Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem MPs today pledge to campaign against the “divisive and discriminatory use” of inoculation certificates to “deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs”.
They include 41 Tories – potentially jeopardising the Prime Minister’s 80-seat Commons majority.
No10 sources said they expected the Government would need parliamentary approval before introducing the measure.
A formal review into passports is underway, with Mr Johnson expected to provide “a high-level direction of travel” on Easter Monday.
Clamour for certainty over whether inoculations will be needed to go to theatres, restaurants and bars grows as the vaccination scheme continues.
Figures last night showed 31,147,44 people had received a first jab, and 4,513,458 a second dose.
Speaking at a B&Q in Middlesbrough yesterday, the PM insisted certification had a role to play.
He said: “There’s definitely going to be a world in which international travel will use vaccine passports.
“You can see already that other countries, the aviation industry, are interested in this and there’s a logic to that.
“I think when it comes to trying to make sure that we give maximum confidence to businesses and customers in the UK, there are three things – there’s immunity whether you have had it before so you have natural antibodies, whether you have been vaccinated, and of course whether you have had a test.”
Supporters believe those who have immunity should be allowed to resume normal life, boosting the economy while rediscovering freedoms.
But critics believe passports would discriminate against those who cannot be vaccinated, including pregnant women and a very small number of people who may have an allergic reaction, and infringe civil liberties.
Labour leader Keir Starmer claimed certificates go against “the British instinct”.
“My instinct is that, as the vaccine is rolled out, as the number of hospital admissions and deaths go down, there will be a British sense that we don’t actually want to go down this road,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“I think this is really difficult and I’m not going to pretend there’s a clear black and white, yes-no easy answer on this. It is extremely difficult.
“My instinct is that… (if) we get the virus properly under control, the death rates are near zero, hospital admissions very, very low, that the British instinct in those circumstances will be against vaccine passports.”
The Prime Minister, who previously rejected vaccine passports, now believes landlords could be able to ask for proof before pulling a pint.
But Mr Starmer said: “I think this idea that we sort of outsource this to individual landlords is just wrong in principle.”
However, a poll this week showed people backed proof of inoculation for them to carry out a range of activities.
The Ipsos MORI UK KnowledgePanel survey found 78% supported them for travelling abroad, 74% for visiting relatives in hospitals and 78% for visiting family in care homes.
Some 68% said they should be needed to go to the theatre or an indoor concert and 62% backed requiring one to go to the pub or eat in a restaurant.
If Mr Starmer orders Labour MPs to vote against vaccine passports, and enough lockdown-sceptic Tory rebels revolt, it could derail the move.
Dozens of MPs from the Conservative hard-right, Labour’s hard-left and 10 of the 11 Lib Dems in the Commons, formed an alliance last night to oppose the plan.
High profile signatories to a “pledge” include former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Lib Dem boss Sir Ed Davey and a string of Tory former Cabinet ministers, such as ex-Chief Whip Mark Harper, former Work and Pensions Secretary Sir Iain Duncan Smith and former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.
If all the rebel Tories stuck to the pledge, which is signed by 73 MPs and backed by civil liberties’ campaigners, it could leave the PM relying on Labour votes to force through the measure – if Mr Starmer gave his backing.
Conservative grandee Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the party’s backbench 1922 Committee, said: “Covid-status certification would be divisive and discriminatory.
“With high levels of vaccination protecting the vulnerable and making transmission less likely, we should aim to return to normal life, not to put permanent restrictions in place.”
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed vowed to turn the tide on “creeping authoritarianism” from Downing Street.
He said: “As we start to get this virus properly under control we should start getting our freedoms back.
“Vaccine passports – essentially Covid ID cards – take us in the other direction.”
Sam Grant, head of policy at campaign group Liberty, warned: “Any passport system has the potential to create a two-tier society and risk further marginalising people who are already discriminated against and cut off from vital services.
“Vaccine passports would allow ID systems by stealth, entrenching inequality and division.”
Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said the “common goal” was “ to emerge from lockdown healthy, safe and free”.
But she added: “We won’t arrive at freedom through exclusion.
“Covid passes would be the first attempt at segregation in Britain for many decades, dividing communities without reducing the risks.
“We are in real danger of becoming a check-point society where anyone from bouncers to bosses could demand to see our papers.
“We cannot let this Government create a two-tier nation of division, discrimination and injustice.”
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said Cardiff Bay was working with Westminster over passports.
“There are positive prizes to be won from having a successful vaccine certification scheme but there are many practical and ethical issues that will need to be addressed and resolved successfully if those positive opportunities can be won from it,” Mr Drakeford told a press conference.
“They are complex, but we are engaged on it together.
“We do have independent powers on all four nations on this matter but the fact we are discussing it regularly together, I think, improves the opportunity for us all to address those complex issues in a way that reaches some common solutions.”
Latest data showed another 4,479 coronavirus cases were diagnosed and 274 more Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital.
The death toll rose by 51 to 126,764.