Boris Johnson is facing a Conservative rebellion over plans to introduce coronavirus “passports” for domestic use, with more than 40 Tory MPs warning that they would be “divisive and discriminatory”.
Johnson will on Monday deliver an update on planning for the Covid-19 certificates — which would record vaccinations, testing and immunity using an NHS app — but he is under growing pressure to abandon the idea.
A total of 41 Tory MPs have joined a cross-party coalition of more than 70 MPs opposing the plan, linking up with Jeremy Corbyn, former Labour leader, and Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat leader.
The Conservatives include former ministers Steve Baker and Iain Duncan Smith, and, combined with the opposition MPs, could potentially threaten to defeat Johnson’s government in a vote.
“Covid-status certification would be divisive and discriminatory,” argued Graham Brady, chair of the Conservatives’ backbench 1922 committee.
“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.”
Keir Starmer, Labour leader, on Thursday told the Daily Telegraph that the use of so-called “Covid passports” to enter pubs, as suggested by Johnson last month, was against the “British instinct”.
Although Starmer said he would study any proposals and did not promise to vote against the idea in the Commons, he added: “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.”
Michael Gove, cabinet office minister, is leading the review of whether Covid-19 certificates could be used domestically, particularly to gain access to entertainment and hospitality venues like nightclubs which have proved difficult to reopen.
Johnson has stressed that the certificates would not just include vaccinations but also test results and evidence that a person had immunity after previously contracting Covid-19.
On Thursday, Johnson said he wanted to give “maximum confidence to businesses and customers in the UK”. He also said that vaccine passports would play a role in reopening foreign travel. “There’s definitely going to be a world in which international travel will use vaccine passports,” he said.
Allies of Gove said that “no decisions have been taken”. The review of the policy is due to conclude by June 21, the earliest date by which the government has said that most remaining lockdown restrictions will be scrapped.
The European Commission has announced plans to introduce Digital Green Certificates. The documentation, in either paper or digital form, will allow individuals who have recovered from coronavirus, had a coronavirus vaccine or have tested negative, the ability to travel freely throughout Europe.
Meanwhile, the latest data from the Office for National Statistics indicate that coronavirus infections have fallen across most of the UK.
In England, an estimated 148,100 people tested positive for Covid-19 in the week ended March 27, equating to about one in 370 people, down from one in 340 people the week before.
Infections dropped in Wales and in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, however, cases appear to have risen, from one in 320 people to one in 220.