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Unworkable COVID pub passports 'would create two-tier society'

Ellen Manning
·3-min read

Watch: Publicans and Tory MP's fury at PM's 'vaccine passports' suggestion

Critics have hit out at the idea of COVID vaccine passports, saying they are "simply unworkable" and could create a "two-tier Britain".

Pub landlords, trade bodies and lockdown sceptics have rejected the suggestion by Boris Johnson that publicans could be left to decide whether to allow only customers who have been vaccinated against coronavirus into their premises.

On Thursday, the boss of the Shepherd Neame chain said making jabs mandatory for entry to pubs was a “fairly poorly thought out idea”, while Tory lockdown sceptic Steve Baker warned the move could create a “two-tier Britain”.

On Wednesday Johnson said it “may be up to individual publicans” whether they require customers to have a “COVID vaccination certificate”.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is currently reviewing the possible use of coronavirus status certificates under plans to ease England's lockdown restrictions.

Johnson said on Thursday the result of the review can be expected by 12 April, although it may not be possible to roll them out until everyone has been offered a jab. 

File photo dated 04/11/20 of people queuing to get into the The George pub in Wanstead, east London. Pub landlords could be allowed to require customers to provide proof they are vaccinated against coronavirus, according to Boris Johnson. Issue date: Wednesday March 24, 2021.
Pub owners have rejected the idea of COVID passports. (PA)

The PM told broadcasters: “I do think there is going to be a role for certification. 

“What we said is we’ll be reporting on the work of the certification group in early April, either on April 5 or April 12.

“There are lots of difficult issues because there are some people who for medical reasons can’t get a vaccination, pregnant women can’t get a vaccination at the moment, you’ve got to be careful about how you do this.

“You might only be able to implement a thorough-going vaccination passport scheme even if you wanted such a thing in the context of when absolutely everybody had been offered a vaccine.”

But trade bodies have said making access conditional on jabs is “simply unworkable” and would cause “conflict” between staff and punters.

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame pub group, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it’s absolutely fine to exclude people where there is a situation of bad behaviour or drunkenness, and that’s already enshrined in law.

“But if you’re going to exclude people for what they are, or what they have not done, that’s a wholly different issue which does touch on discrimination, civil liberties, and in this case data protection issues.”

He warned the move could also see bar staff “subject to intimidation”, adding: “This is fraught with difficulty I think, and it is, in my view, a fairly poorly thought-out idea at this stage.”

Tattooed caucasian barman pouring beer while standing in pub.
Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame pub group, said the move could lead to staff being intimidated. (Stock image: Getty)

Tory MP Baker said: “Whether the state legislates for it, recommends it or simply allows it, the result will be the same: a two-tier Britain that prevents pregnant women from taking part in society, given that the government is telling them not to take the vaccine, or one where we turn back the clock and tolerate businesses turning away customers from communities which have shown an unfortunate hesitancy to take up the offer of a vaccine.”

Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “If this was really a public health measure, you wouldn’t be saying, ‘Well, it is going to be a landlord discretion’ – you’d be saying, ‘This is the government’s view, this is what’s safe’.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality trade body, said it is “crucial” that visits to pubs and restaurants are not subject to mandatory vaccination certification.

“It is simply unworkable, would cause conflict between staff and customers and almost certainty result in breaches of equality rules,” she said.

The British Beer and Pub Association said the requirement would not be “appropriate or necessary”.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown