Prime Minister Boris Johnson has drawn an immediate backlash from restaurant and pub bosses following remarks made yesterday, 24 March, that admission to hospitality venues after reopening may be conditioned on entrants proving vaccine certification — and that such checks would be carried out by business owners; the checks would not be mandated by Johnson’s government.
After Johnson told MPs that “the basic concept of vaccine certification shouldn’t be totally alien to us”, he was asked if certification might be introduced for those wishing to visit the pub. Johnson elected to defer responsibility on to business owners, saying: “I think that’s the kind of thing that may be up to individual publicans, maybe up to landlords.”
MPs and scientists have criticised the prospective strategy, which could see pubs remove social distancing measures if it committed to ensuring guests had been vaccinated or provided a negative COVID-19 test.
Trade body U.K. Hospitality was also quick to caution against the introduction of either a voluntary or mandatory vaccine passport scheme, especially as a “condition of removing restrictions.” It warned that it may result in “confusion and inequality among businesses, customers and staff and would act as a de-facto open ended delay to the reopening process.” A mandatory passport scheme, it added, would “be unworkable, cause conflict, and could be counter to equality rules.” The measures would, for example, exclude many pregnant women from entering pubs and restaurants, since they are being advised not to receive the vaccination.
The Prime Minister appears to have read the room this morning and already begun rowing back on the idea, clarifying that vaccine passports may only be introduced once everyone had been given the chance to be vaccinated. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted at lunchtime: “Important on pub passports - PM’s suggested this morning that idea might only apply once everyone has been offered a vaccine.”
U.K. Hospitality had pointed out that if the scheme was introduced sooner then it would risk giving rise “to a two-tier system [...] in which young staff members, due to be vaccinated last, are able to work in a pub, but not able to visit it socially.”
Important on pub passports - PM's suggested this morning that idea might only apply once everyone has been offered a vaccine— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) March 25, 2021
The Guardian reports that Ed Miliband, Labour shadow business secretary, said the government should not leave the use of vaccine passports in the hands of pub landlords “if they thought it was the right move for public health.”
Miliband told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “If it was necessary, why would you be leaving it up to individual landlords? 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.’ So there are many, many unanswered questions about this.”
Kate Nicholls, U.K. Hospitality chief executive said that upon reopening, ministers needed to “throw off the shackles of coronavirus in line with the Government’s roadmap; not impose more checks on our ability to socialise and do business.” She added: “There is a concern among businesses that the eventual rolling back of restrictions, vital to business survival, may be linked to the use of a vaccine passport scheme. That cannot be allowed to happen.”
Elsewhere, Steven Alton, chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) said that to demand even more of pubs “at a time when their businesses are teetering on the edge, and at the same time excluding members of their communities who may not have the option of vaccination, would be devastating for our sector.
He called it an “unworkable solution at a point where our pubs need to be open and trading freely and fully, will seriously endanger the survival of our pubs.”
“The Prime Minister must deliver his roadmap commitment with pubs to be free of restrictions on 21 June,” Alton added. “Our pubs, small businesses led by entrepreneurs, are facing a long road to recovery, more unworkable and baseless ideas will result in business failure and lost jobs.”