Boris Johnson hints he could sidestep MPs and force Covid passports into law without a vote

What did Boris Johnson announce at today’s press conference?

The next step of easing lockdown will go ahead as planned: The PM confirmed that non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and libraries in England will reopen from April 12 while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors. Overnight stays away from home in England will be permitted. The majority of outdoor settings and attractions like zoos and theme parks can also reopen. 

Foreign travel: A traffic light system will be rolled out when international travel is allowed again but the PM refused to commit to his target roadmap date of May 17 for resuming flights. The new system will see countries rated green, amber or red based on data including vaccination levels and Covid-19 case numbers. Return travel from countries on the green list will be quarantine-free although people will still need to take tests before their trip and when they return. Ministers said it is ‘too early to say’ which countries will be green. 

Vaccine passports: The PM unveiled the initial findings of a Whitehall review into the use of ‘Covid status certification’. The documents will combine vaccination, testing and immunity data and will be used to determine access to large-scale events. The Government has left the door open to the documents being used for access to pubs and restaurants. 

Working from home and social distancing: Initial findings from a Government review suggest both WFH and social distancing could continue past ‘freedom day’ on June 21 – the last date in the roadmap. The review said it is looking at ‘how and when to safely lift or amend the 1m+ rule’ as well as other restrictions like working from home. It stressed that the conclusion will ‘depend on the latest data and evidence on the state of the pandemic’ while ‘the extent of any relaxation in social distancing measures’ will be linked to the success of vaccine passports. The findings do not contain a specific target date by which the rules will be lifted. 

Return to spectator events: Ministers will run a series of pilot programmes in different venues to test the best ways to bring back crowds to live events. The pilots will be closely linked to the vaccine passports initiative, although the initial events will focus entirely on using testing data to grant access. Participating venues will include the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield and the Circus nightclub in Liverpool. Ministers are also hoping to admit a crowd of up to 20,000 people to Wembley for the FA Cup final on May 15, with a second wave of pilots taking place from the end of May. 

Back to normal: A new paper published today by the Government’s SAGE committee said life will not go back to normal this summer even if the PM’s roadmap goes completely to plan. SAGE sources warned that while vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they ‘are not good enough’ to see all curbs lifted ‘without a big epidemic’. The experts claimed that ‘baseline measures’, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are ‘reasonably confident’ that Covid will be manageable by then.  

Boris Johnson set himself up for a potentially volcanic clash with his own backbenchers over Covid vaccine passports tonight by suggesting he might try to get them into law without a vote.

The Prime Minister tonight played down fears of any move to require evidence of jabs to go to pubs or restaurants before the summer as he confirmed hospitality venues will reopen – outdoors at least  – on April 12.

But as a review claimed they are ‘likely to become a feature of our lives’ until the end of the pandemic he appeared to sidestep demands for a vote on any new legislation by Tory MPs.

A hard core of Mr Johnson’s own backbenchers would oppose them on civil liberties grounds, and Labour has hinted it could follow suit, meaning they could be thrown out by the Commons.

At a Downing Street press conference tonight Mr Johnson left himself wriggle room to avoid such a vote in the first place. 

‘First we need to work out what exactly the proposal might be, but certainly if there is something to put to Parliament I am certain we will do that,’ he said.

Bringing in such measures without the express approval of MPs is likely to cause an explosive backlash. 

Michael Gove is said to have offered a vote to placate furious backbenchers appalled at the idea of forcing Britons to prove their vaccination status to enter pubs and other social hubs. 

Mark Harper MP, chairman of the Tory Covid Recovery Group (CRG), said: ‘In January the Prime Minister told us vaccines offered us the ”way out” of this cycle of damaging lockdowns and restrictions. By 21st June the Government has promised ”No legal limits on social contact” or ”on all life events”.

‘So if the Government instead wishes to introduce Covid Status Certificates (domestic vaccine passports) then it should ask Parliament to give its approval as ministers have promised.

‘Trying to introduce these domestic vaccine passports by the back door by linking them to removing social distancing rules just won’t be acceptable either.

‘It is crucial MPs are allowed a vote on this, as Michael Gove promised last week. Whether the state legislates for it, recommends it or simply allows it, Covid Status Certification will lead to a two-tier Britain and these issues need debating thoroughly and carefully before we allow them to affect the lives of our constituents.’ 

The Government review also suggested that some non-essential retailers could be allowed to operate a passport scheme. 

The review, released tonight, pointed out that even if the Government did not set up and regulate a system of ‘Covid-status certification’, venues would be able to do it themselves under existing legislation.  

‘Even without Government intervention, COVID-status certification is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes,’ it said.

‘In the UK, businesses and other organisations are able to ask customers for proof of Covid-status in order to access their premises, as long as they are compliant with equalities legislation.

‘The Government believes that introducing a ban on this would in most cases be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe – although … there may be exceptions where the Government needs to intervene to ensure equitable access to essential services.

‘It is therefore right that the Government provides a means of easily demonstrating COVID-status, in order to ensure UK citizens and residents are not denied opportunities to travel or attend certain venues or events.’ 

Boris Johnson unveiled the latest steps on his roadmap out of lockdown this evening, with the ‘early thinking’ revealing that Covid passports could still be required by drinkers to enter the pub or by families heading out for a meal.

Boris Johnson could lose a key vote on vaccine passports after Michael Gove (pictured) promised critical MPs they will get their say over the Government's Covid plans

It comes as chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs Sir Graham Brady (pictured) today blasted vaccine passports as 'intrusive, costly and unnecessary

Boris Johnson could lose a key vote on vaccine passports after Michael Gove (left) promised critical MPs they will get their say over the Government’s Covid plans. It comes as chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs Sir Graham Brady (right) today blasted vaccine passports as ‘intrusive, costly and unnecessary

SAGE warns life WON’T return to normal after ‘the great unlocking’ on June 21 

Life will not go back to normal this summer even if Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, the Government’s top scientific advisers warned today.

Senior SAGE sources said that while the vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they ‘are not good enough’ to see all curbs lifted ‘without a big epidemic’.

All legal limits on social contact were to be abolished by June 21 as part of the final stage of the Prime Minister’s four-step route out of the crisis. It was hoped that festivals, sports events and nightclubs would reopen and that families and friends could reunite in large numbers after that date for the first time since winter 2020.

However, No10’s experts claimed today that ‘baseline measures’, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are ‘reasonably confident’ that Covid will be manageable by then.

The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines reduce Covid deaths by about 90 per cent, but there are fears high infection rates could see the virus spill into the small number of vulnerable people who haven’t been jabbed or for whom the vaccines don’t work.

Despite the pessimistic comments, Mr Johnson is set to announce the country is on track for the second stage of his lockdown easing plans on April 12, which will see shops, gyms, hairdressers and beer gardens reopen again.

Cases and deaths are their lowest levels in six months and more than half of the adult population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of the jabs.

Papers released by SAGE today show the expert group is confident next week’s lockdown-easing measures will not pile pressure on the NHS, even if there is a slight uptick in infections, because of the success of the jab rollout.

But the advisory panel is less optimistic about future stages of the roadmap, adding that it is ‘highly likely that there will be a further resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths’.

They said the reopening of pubs, cinemas and indoor hospitality – due to happen on May 17 – could be delayed if vaccine uptake in the under-50s dips below 85 per cent.

 

Mr  Johnson revealed that he would be heading to the pub on April 12 and ‘cautiously but irreversibly be raising a glass of beer to my lips’, and said that nothing would change in May either. 

But a decision on whether people will later require a passport to do this, instead of social distancing, this has been kicked further down the road to allow more ‘consultation with industry, as part of the review of social distancing rules and taking into account the equalities and other impacts’. 

Mr Johnson told the briefing tonight: ‘On Covid status certification, as we prefer to call it, the most important thing to say to everybody listening and watching is there’s absolutely no question of people being asked to produce certification or a Covid status report when they go to the shops or to the pub garden or to their hairdressers or whatever on Monday.

‘And indeed we are not planning that for stage three either, May 17 as you know we are hoping to go for the opening up of indoor hospitality and so on. We are not planning for anything of that kind at that stage.’

The review added: ‘It is possible that Covid-status certification could also play a role in reducing social distancing requirements in other settings which people tend to visit more frequently, for example in hospitality settings.  

‘However, the Government recognises this has significant implications for businesses and their customers, so this will be further considered in consultation with industry, as part of the review of social distancing rules and taking into account the equalities and other impacts. 

‘For now, businesses should continue to plan to reopen in a way that follows the latest Covid-Secure guidance, and certification will not be required for reopening as part of step 2 or step 3.’

John Foster, the CBI’s director of policy, said: ‘Covid status certificates have a part to play in some of the more challenging parts of the economy, like large scale events. 

‘The government has listened to industry concerns and is seeking to deploy them in a targeted way. These first trials will be watched with great interest. 

‘Any introduction ought to come with rigorous guidance and enforcement to help firms navigate ethical, legal and practical implementation challenges.’  

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Mr Gove is heading up a Government review into the scheme. 

He spoke to MPs about the measures on the phone last week after concerns were raised about the plans – which were blasted as ‘absurd’ and ‘unworkable’ by pub bosses.

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, today blasted vaccine passports as ‘intrusive, costly and unnecessary’.

He said the UK is currently in an ‘enviable position where more than half the population has got antibodies’ – with the number of people with jabs continuing to grow. 

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said he worried that introducing vaccine passports would make people feel they were being forced into having a jab, and would be ‘counterproductive’.

The senior Labour MP told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘My concern is that if you want to drive up vaccination rates further – and to be fair, vaccine hesitancy has fallen in this country and we are doing very well.

‘But all the evidence has always suggested that if you want to maintain confidence in vaccination, that you don’t make it compulsory, don’t force people to be vaccinated – you encourage people, you persuade people.

‘And my worry with what the Government are suggesting is they are effectively trying to force people into taking a vaccine and I think in the end that will be counterproductive.’

 One Tory MP who took part in the call told The Daily Telegraph: ‘Michael made a very clear statement on the call with MPs that there would be debates and votes before anything like this came into force.’

In a cross-party letter on Friday, 72 MPs – 41 of which were Tories – branded the Covid passport idea ‘divisive and discriminatory’.

If more than 60 Conservative MPs vote against the measures – alongside all members of the opposition – the vaccine passport plan would fail to get through the Commons in an embarrassing defeat for the PM.

Health minister Edward Argar today denied that the Government had changed its mind on the use of so-called vaccine passports, after Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi previously called them discriminatory.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said today that Labour had 'many reservations' about the use of vaccine passports in the UK and questioned whether 'we need a sledgehammer to crack a nut here'

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said today that Labour had ‘many reservations’ about the use of vaccine passports in the UK and questioned whether ‘we need a sledgehammer to crack a nut here’

Warning over ‘nightmare’ vaccine passports 

Putting vaccine passports into law would be a ‘nightmare’ and require ‘enormous scrutiny’, an expert warned today.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told Times Radio that while in general they were a good thing if they made people feel a bit safer and more people were vaccinated, they needed ‘enormous scrutiny’.

He said: ‘I find it difficult to have the vaccine passport conversation, and I’ve had quite a lot of these discussions of policy advice level, without getting into the detail because who of us wouldn’t think that vaccine passports were in general, a good thing, if people felt a bit safer and more people were vaccinated and we had more assurance of that?

‘And yet, one or two sentences into discussion you get rather sort of bogged down at the devil is in the detail, and there are an awful lot of confounders there where you could make some very, very poor legislation.’

Asked if vaccination passports will require new laws which could be difficult to word correctly, Prof Altmann added: ‘I think the detail is an absolute nightmare and, without being pedantic or negative, requires enormous scrutiny.’

 

Asked on BBC Breakfast whether the Government had changed its mind, Mr Argar said: ‘I don’t think it is that at all.

‘I think it is right that we look at this and see if there is a way that, while balancing all of those practical, ethical and fairness considerations, is there a way this could, in the short term, speed up our reopening of the country and getting back to doing the things we love?’

Labour leader Keir Starmer last week hinted that his party could line up alongside Tory rebels to oppose the idea, and suggested needing a passport to go to the pub would be un-British. 

Mr Johnson will give the green light today for further work on schemes that require people to show they are at low risk of harbouring the virus.

Government sources said the ‘focus’ would be on enabling certain businesses to reopen without the need for social distancing rules that would make them economically unviable.

Ministers have ruled out making the passports compulsory in hospitality venues.

But, raising the prospect of Covid passports brought in by stealth, a Government source told the Mail that those who do accept them could reap earlier benefits.

‘The focus is on high risk settings like large events and nightclubs that may not be able to operate commercially with social distancing,’ the source said.

Yesterday it was revealed that the Government is set to launch of a pilot scheme that will use the FA Cup Final and a Liverpool nightclub to test ways for the UK’s nightlife scene to burst back into life after Covid.

Events will take place in April and May where proof of a jab will be required for entry, to avoid the need for social distancing.

They include 21,000 fans at the FA Cup Final at Wembley, spectators at the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield and a mass participation run in Hatfield, Hertforshire. 

And sports minister Nigel Huddleston confirmed yesterday afternoon: ‘It is not just about certification actually, in fact the earlier programmes, the earlier pilots almost certainly won’t involve any element of certification but it will involve testing, making sure people are tested before and after the event.

‘What we will be looking at is the mitigation measures, so the ventilation, one-way systems, hygiene measures, all of those kind of things to help inform long term decision making.’

Ministers are due to report with their initial findings on vaccine passports today.  

But it is understood that no decision on the measure has yet been made regarding whether pubs will have to force drinkers to show Covid passports, with evidence still being assessed.  

Michael Gove promised MPs who are critical of the vaccine passport system - which could see pubs forced to demand proof of a Covid jab prior to entry - a chance to vote against Mr Johnson's proposals. Pictured: Boris Johnson

Michael Gove promised MPs who are critical of the vaccine passport system – which could see pubs forced to demand proof of a Covid jab prior to entry – a chance to vote against Mr Johnson’s proposals. Pictured: Boris Johnson

One Tory MP – who asked not to be named – last week said on the potential for the Government to lose a vote on vaccine passports: ‘If Labour are not onside that puts it in a totally different position.’

Another Tory MP warned against rolling out domestic certificates as they said some people may be unable to have a jab and therefore the policy would result in an ‘unfair two-tier system’.

Ipsos Mori revealed that 62 per cent of Britons would back their introduction for people wanting to go for a pint or a meal with their family and 63 per cent want them to be used for people going to the gym.

Almost eight in 10 people (78 per cent) polled supported people having to show proof of a coronavirus vaccine to travel abroad or visit people in care homes.

And there was strong backing for them to be required to work as a frontline NHS medic or in a care home (79 per cent) as well as in schools (69 per cent). 

But Tory civil liberties campaigner and former minister David Davis blasted the idea.

He said he agreed with Sir Keir that they were ‘un-British’, telling LBC radio: ‘We wouldn’t do this for flu, flu can kill up to 25,000 people a year. 

Millions could go to pubs with no social distancing under plans to let drinkers use mobile phones to prove they are free of Covid. This graphic shows how the app would have worked

Millions could go to pubs with no social distancing under plans to let drinkers use mobile phones to prove they are free of Covid. This graphic shows how the app would have worked 

Entry to festivals and major sporting events will only be allowed to those with either an NHS app or certificate showing they have had a covid jab, the Prime Minister is expected to announce on Monday (file image)

Entry to festivals and major sporting events will only be allowed to those with either an NHS app or certificate showing they have had a covid jab, the Prime Minister is expected to announce on Monday (file image)

‘Vaccines will reduce this illness to killing a lot less than that every year, then we will have to accommodate it, but not by giving up our basic freedoms.’ 

Yesterday’s Covid data showed a further ten people died after testing positive in a 47 per cent drop on last Sunday – but Wales and Northern Ireland’s data is not included due to Easter delays.

Sunday marked the second day in a row that just ten deaths had been recorded. 

The Government’s official data also revealed a further 2,297 people tested positive for coronavirus yesterday, a 40.5 per cent drop on that day last week.  

But cases and deaths figures over Easter were affected by incomplete data and a longer-than-usual lag in reporting.

Northern Ireland and Wales did not report any deaths or cases because of the delays.

As Britain saw its first weekend since lockdown rules were relaxed to allow outdoor mixing in groups of six, the country’s vaccine total triumphantly hit 36,904,755 on Saturday.

A further 97,328 people were given their first dose, while 176,240 were given their second.

April is expected to the be a month of second doses because millions are due their second jab as the 12 week deadline approaches.   

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