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Publicans uneasy over only allowing access to vaccinated customers

Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent
·6-min read

Publicans have criticised Boris Johnson’s suggestion that it could be left up to them to decide whether to only permit customers who have been vaccinated against coronavirus.

The boss of the Shepherd Neame chain said on Thursday that making jabs mandatory for entry to pubs is a “fairly poorly thought out idea”.

Bosses of Young’s, Greene King and City Pub Group called the idea “unworkable”, “devastating” and “chaotic and discriminatory”, respectively – echoing strong resistance from trade bodies.

But fresh details emerged of a strong incentive for pubs to adopt checks of health certificates under plans being considered in the Government’s review into their possible use.

Though no decision has been made, the PA news agency was told pubs may be allowed to scrap social distancing rules if they check customers’ certificates at the door, allowing them to operate far more profitably.

The Prime Minister said on Wednesday that it “may be up to individual publicans” whether they require customers to have a “Covid vaccination certificate”.

Tory lockdown sceptic Steve Baker warned the move could create a “two-tier Britain”, while Labour frontbencher Ed Miliband said it would be wrong to leave the public health measure up to pub landlords.

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame pub group, ruled out making vaccines mandatory for entry to his premises.

“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,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“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.”

Clive Watson, founder of City Pub Group, told the PA news agency that introducing mandatory vaccines to pubs would be “absolutely chaotic and discriminatory”.

He said: “If you can’t require all hauliers coming into the country to have vaccine passports it is mad to suggest someone might need one to go to the pub.

“It’s discriminatory and a lot of people, including myself, have had a vaccine but haven’t got a way to immediately prove it.

“The paperwork would be an absolute nightmare.”

Mr Watson added that around 90% of his workforce are under-40 and would therefore “not work operationally either”.

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of 190-year-old pub owner and brewer Young’s, said the possibility of mandatory vaccines for pubs “is unworkable and the Government should stay clear of it”.

“We do not support this idea,” he added. “At this point in time the Government should focus on encouraging people to enjoy their summer holidays in the UK than go abroad.

“This will be a far greater benefit to the economy than to opening up the huge risk of bringing Covid variants back to the UK from abroad.

“It is exactly how the pandemic entered into the UK in the first place.”

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, told the PA news agency barring entry to customers who have not had a vaccine would be totally unworkable, add significant cost and make pubs unviable at a time when the industry is planning to start to rebuild after restrictions end.

He said: “Such a move would be impractical, could be discriminatory and it’s unacceptable for our team members, half of whom are under 25, to have to police these measures and deal with the fallout from the significant number of customers who won’t have received a vaccine.

“Floating proposals without consultation and full consideration of the implications is disappointing and has a huge impact on the people who work in pubs and just want to get back to serving customers.

“It’s vital the Government sticks to its timetable with a full, unrestricted reopening from June 21.

“While a vaccine passport system may be workable for international travel and large-scale events, it would be devastating for pubs.”

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

The use of certificates may not be as straightforward as vaccine or no vaccine, as recent negative test status may also be considered.

A Whitehall source said that landlords may be able to scrap social distancing if they check Covid health certificates on entry, in a move that would allow them to operate at much higher capacity.

But, under the suggestion being considered, those who did not want to enforce the checks would be allowed to reopen but would have to ensure social distancing is upheld.

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.

Pub staff wearing PPE
Staff wore PPE after pubs reopened last summer following the first lockdown (Owen Humphreys/PA)

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

Mr Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, 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’.”

Announcing the review of the certificates in February, Mr Johnson said there are “deep and complex” ethical issues surrounding requiring vaccinations for certain activities.

Former chief whip Mark Harper, who chairs the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory lockdown-sceptics, told Sky News there are “significant problems” with the need to “show papers to go to the pub”.

CRG deputy chairman Mr Baker, a former minister, urged the Government not to “fall into this ghastly trap”.

“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,” he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the Government’s “latest wheeze” on Covid certificates is “the worst of all worlds”.

“As well as burdening struggling pubs with extra cost, the idea that businesses can voluntarily bar certain customers, who may not even have been offered a vaccine, is deeply illiberal,” he said.

Dan Shears, national officer of the GMB union, said: “If a vaccine certificate is the only way to access a pub, then most under-50s are essentially barred until they get their jab.

“This will lead to pressure on GPs to fast-track younger patients, false certificates, potential violence for pub workers and even a black market for vaccine doses.

“If the Government wants a fast track to undo all of the gains of the present lockdown, this is it.”