Minister faces fierce Tory backlash in the Commons over vaccine passports

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi (Tom Nicholson/PA) (PA Wire)
15:17pm, Wed 08 Sep 2021
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Tory MPs urged the Government to drop plans for vaccine passports after accusing a minister of talking “rubbish” and picking an “unnecessary fight” with them.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi also caused head-shaking among colleagues when he told MPs there will be “some essential services which will not need” people to show a Covid passport – heightening their fears over the Government’s proposals.

The Government has confirmed it wants to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs, an idea which has previously been met with criticism from MPs in both main parties, by the end of September.

This is a needless fight that we seem prepared to have in this House over the issue, it’s completely unnecessary

The scheme would see members of the public required to show proof they have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine in order to gain entry to clubs and other large-scale events.

Responding to an urgent question in the Commons Mr Zahawi said the policy is “designed to reduce transmission and serious illness”.

He added: “No-one in this Government, certainly not this Prime Minister – it is not in his DNA to curtail people’s freedoms or require people to show a piece of paper before they enter a nightclub.”

Mr Zahawi went on: “The reason that we are moving forward on this is because, if you look at what has happened in other countries where nightclubs were opening and then shutting again, opening and shutting again, we want to avoid that disruption and maintain sectors that can add to people’s enjoyment of life and dance, as it did for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Michael Gove).

“That they can do so sustainably, the reason for the end of September… is because by the end of September all 18-year-olds and above would have had the chance to have two doses.”

He added: “It is not something… we do lightly, it is something to allow us to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic status.”

But Conservative William Wragg (Hazel Grove) said: “What a load of rubbish.

“I don’t believe (Mr Zahawi) believes a word of what he’s just uttered because I remember him very persuasively stating my position – which we shared at the time – that this measure would be discriminatory and yet he’s sent to the despatch box to defend the indefensible.

“This is a needless fight that we seem prepared to have in this House over the issue, it’s completely unnecessary.”

Mr Wragg encouraged people to have the jab, adding: “But to go down this route, which is overtly discriminatory, would be utterly damaging to the fabric of society.”

Conservative MP Mark Harper (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament) (PA Media)

Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper, who chairs the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, said vaccine passports are a “discriminatory policy” before adding: “This is a pointless policy with damaging effects.

“I’m afraid the minister is picking an unnecessary fight with his own colleagues. I say to him, the Government should think again.”

Mr Harper highlighted how Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has stated there is no need for vaccine passports for MPs to attend the chamber.

He added: “Let’s not have one rule for Members of Parliament and another rule for everybody else. Drop this policy.”

Earlier, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “We cannot support any potential Covid pass scheme for access to everyday services, so can the minister categorically assure me that no-one will be required to have a Covid vaccination pass to access essential services?”

Mr Zahawi replied: “She asks about people’s access to essential settings, incredibly important.

“I can assure her that there are some essential services which will not need for people to show Covid vaccine certification – these settings that have stayed open throughout the pandemic, such as public sector buildings, essential retail, essential services and public transport.”

Tory former minister Karen Bradley (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Archive)

Conservative former minister Karen Bradley said the minister was “defending a policy that I don’t think his heart is truly in”.

Sir Desmond Swayne, another Tory former minister, pondered: “Isn’t the super-spreader event the spread of a liberal discriminatory and coercive policy from this despatch box?”

Conservative MP Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) said: “May I, on bended knee, implore (Mr Zahawi) to summon all his courage and say ‘no’ to vaccine passports and protect our civil liberties.”

Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland), who secured the urgent question, called on the Government to hold a vote on Covid vaccine passports.

He warned: “Never before in peacetime has the government of this country controlled in this way where we can go, with whom and what to do.”

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