Behind the scenes

Tory rebels plotting ‘million-to-one chance’ plan to block vaccine passports

Hospitality bosses label plans for jab proof ‘absurd’ and ‘unfair’

Boris Johnson is struggling to calm Conservative nerves amid plotting by backbenchers to kill the launch of vaccine passports aimed at allowing a rapid relaxation of social distancing measures.

Steve Baker, the influential former chair of the European Research Group, confirmed to Politico’s London Playbook that a group of rebel Tory MPs are hatching a plan to sideline the proposal, adding: “It’s a million-to-one chance but it just might work.”

Politico’s Emilio Casalicchio reports that Baker “refused to divulge details about his thinking”, noting that the “rebel organiser-in-chief” made his opposition to the plan public when he told Times Radio that plans for people to take two tests, three days apart, for 24 hours of freedom were a “pretty despicable way to live”.

According to The Telegraph, vaccine passport checks “could be introduced at theatres, football matches, business conferences, wedding venues and even some workplaces”, once the UK’s third lockdown comes to an end.

People will need to show “proof of getting a Covid jab, recently testing negative or having antibodies after recovering from the virus to gain admittance under the plans”, the paper adds.

Telegraph political editor Ben Riley-Smith reports that advocates of the plan say the passports could “allow for social distancing rules to be relaxed sooner than planned”, meaning “big groups can gather indoors again”. But it would also require people to “regularly show parts of their medical status for everyday activities – a situation unimaginable 18 months ago”, he adds.

The plan is for people to use their mobile phone to display their passport on an app that “provides a virtual ‘coronavirus certificate’ – probably featuring a scannable QR code”, the Daily Mail says.

A government official did not deny those claims when asked by Politico, with the Daily Mail adding that “officials want to modify an existing NHS app to facilitate the ‘passports’ scheme”. The planning is being overseen by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, but is already facing fierce opposition from hospitality bosses who have branded the idea “unworkable, costly and discriminatory”, the paper adds.

The hope in No. 10 is that rolling out passports could nudge those who are sceptical into getting their vaccine, with a government source telling The Guardian that “not being allowed into pubs may focus minds”. 

But with publicans telling The Times that the suggestion is “absurd” and “unfair”, it is not just nervous Conservative MPs who the prime minister needs to convince if the plan is to get off the ground. 

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