Michael Gove has launched a charm offensive to persuade sceptical MPs to back a domestic Covid passport scheme, the strongest indication yet that the government intends to press ahead with the plan.
MPs believe the scheme, under which venues such as pubs could be asked to see proof of vaccination or recent tests before allowing entry, could even be included in the Queen’s speech, making it more difficult for MPs to oppose.
The prospect has been heavily criticised by some Conservative MPs as an affront to civil liberties. Gove held a Zoom meeting on Monday with a number of opponents to the scheme, including the leaders of a lockdown sceptic group of Tory MPs, Mark Harper and Steve Baker, and the former cabinet minister David Davis, a longtime anti-ID card campaigner.
Others invited included the former cabinet minister Damian Green and former minister Andrew Murrison, a GP who has worked on the vaccine rollout, who told the group that patients had been asking for proof of vaccination and suggested the public would not be opposed to the scheme.
MPs who attended the meetings said Labour’s Hilary Benn and John Spellar, who were also invited, appeared open to backing the plans, as did the SNP, though the Lib Dems’ chief whip Alistair Carmichael said his party would be forcefully opposed.
Boris Johnson told MPs last week that pubgoers could be asked to provide proof they have been inoculated, saying this “may be up to individual publicans”. Venues are likely to be allowed to relax social distancing rules if they check Covid certification on the door, but the prime minister has insisted that the documents are unlikely to be introduced until all adults have been offered an injection.
The government is set to announce its interim findings on 5 April, along with the review of international travel, though a final decision is not set to be taken until June.
Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, is seen by government insiders as a strong supporter of the scheme and has been taking evidence on the success of the Israeli “green pass” system. But officials and ministers are said to be divided between whether the certification should apply only to mass events, for which there is broad support, or additionally to smaller venues, which is more controversial.
The plan is to make the certification available on a modified NHS app, which would detail whether a person has had a vaccination, or a recent test, or has antibodies to the virus, having previously tested positive.
Officials have also taken evidence on the legal risks of the system, including whether it might contravene the European convention on human rights and what it might mean for employment rights.
Last week the Guardian reported that the consultation had been taking outside evidence on whether certificates could act as an incentive for younger people to have the jab, with officials asking directly whether the tool might be a useful “nudge” for those who might otherwise be diffident.