In 2004, Boris Johnson, now the UK’s Prime Minister, famously wrote:
“If I am ever asked, on the streets of London, or in any other venue, public or private, to produce my ID card as evidence that I am who I say I am, when I have done nothing wrong and when I am simply ambling along and breathing God’s fresh air like any other freeborn Englishman, then I will take that card out of my wallet and physically eat it in the presence of whatever emanation of the state has demanded that I produce it.
If I am incapable of consuming it whole, I will masticate the card to the point of illegibility. And if that fails, or if my teeth break with the effort, I will take out my penknife and cut it up in front of the officer concerned.”
Today, his words are different. At the same time several countries are rushing to create digital vaccine passports, Johnson has announced that pub owners and landlords can now legally demand proof of vaccination when pubs reopen next month.
The government had previously insisted that vaccine certificates would not be required domestically.
Speaking to members of parliament in the lower house liaison committee, the PM hinted that it would not be unlawful for pub owners to demand proof of vaccination from customers before they enter their premises.
“I think that that’s the kind of thing, it may be up to individual publicans, it may be up to the landlord,” Johnson responded after he was asked if proof of vaccination would be required. “I do think that the basic concept of vaccine certification should not be totally alien to us.”
The PM’s remarks mark a change in the government’s previous assurance that vaccine certificates would not be used domestically. Last December, Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said that proof of vaccination would result in discrimination.
Hugh Osmond, founder of Punch Taverns, says allowing pubs to demand vaccine passports is “the most appalling idea” and “almost certainly illegal”.
While many pub owners might not demand proof of vaccination, questionable polls have consistently shown that Britons support strict coronavirus restrictions and measures.
Therefore, the PM green lighting the use of vaccine passports to access pubs, could result in such systems being introduced in other venues, adding the the struggle that venues have faced in the last year.
The British Pub Confederation has criticized the idea.
“Pubs can’t open with any sort of normality until June. So on top of having to take on extra staff to serve people at tables, the idea pubs can take in staff to act as door staff for vaccine passports is absurd,” said the chairman of the organization, Greg Mulholland.
The CEO of UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls, said the idea “would put lots of businesses in a very difficult position.”
Beer gardens and outdoor areas in the UK will reopen on April 17, and indoor spaces will follow suit on May 17.