Tory MPs believe Boris Johnson is facing a major rebellion against Covid vaccine passports, but could be backed by Labor, who was reluctant to back them on Tuesday night.
Tory MPs opposed to the plan for Covid passes to enter nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues said more than 40 Tories were ready to challenge the prime minister over civil liberties concerns, especially since No. 10 refused to rule out the extension of passes to pubs and other sectors.
The scale of the rebellion could put any vote on a razor’s edge if opposition parties also oppose the idea, which was proposed by Johnson on Monday in an extraordinary U-turn hours after the clubs turned been licensed to open in England for the first time in 16 months.
At least 42 Tory MPs have signed a Big Brother Watch multi-party statement against “certification of Covid status to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs” in recent months. More and more MPs privately told The Guardian they were unlikely to support such a move, especially if there was a vaccine pass left that did not recognize a negative test result or evidence of antibodies.
The issue is expected to be raised on Wednesday at a meeting of the new 1922 backbench MPs committee, which is now headed by three Covid passport skeptics. Nusrat Ghani and William Wragg were elected new vice presidents on Tuesday, joining longtime president Sir Graham Brady. On Tuesday, some Tory MPs threatened to boycott the Tory Party conference in October over fears Covid passports would be needed.
However, Keir Starmer is still undecided as to how Labor will vote, although the party leader has previously suggested that the Covid certificates would be against ‘British instinct’.
Labor shadow ministers were locked into talks on Tuesday over the party’s position and are expected to have made a decision by Wednesday morning. If they oppose passports, Johnson could face defeat in the Commons as the Lib Dems oppose it as well.
However, senior Labor officials have reportedly argued that the situation has fundamentally changed since the party first took a stand. Cases are skyrocketing and jabs are offered to young people and pregnant women who might otherwise have been excluded, reducing the argument that they are discriminatory. Ministers have promised exemptions for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
Asked on Tuesday whether access to pubs and transport could possibly be subject to Covid passports, Johnson’s spokesman said the government “will use the coming weeks to examine evidence, particularly in the UK and in the world before making a specific decision ”.
Several Conservative members have expressed their frustration. Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, said the policy was ‘without logic’, especially since having two jabs was not currently enough for people to avoid isolating themselves after exposure to Covid .
Steve Baker, one of the main opponents of Covid passports, said: ‘There is nothing I can do or the Tories can do if Labor continues to refuse to oppose the government’s illiberal policies. It’s really now all about Sir Keir, who described this policy as un-British. “
Many were also skeptical that the plan, proposed from the end of September, would materialize. “I’m considering voting against the whip for the first time in my life, but I’m also not going to worry too much about it this summer because it looks like No 10 is using him as a stick to try and persuade the young people get bitten, ”said a Conservative backbench MP.
A former minister is preparing for another U-turn. “I feel like the government has become a race car that always ends up where it started. Drifting right, down the straight and back into the stands… it’s just reacting to this and that, a scientist or a public opinion poll. It makes little sense that there is a clear plan. We have changed it so often, ”he said.
One MP said there was “no doubt” that Johnson would insist on vaccine passports for the party conference, and that “accordingly, it should come as no surprise that a number of Conservative MPs and activists refuse to attend ”.