Only last week, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi assured us that the government is not looking at vaccine passports as they would be discriminatory and un-British. So imagine Mr S’s astonishment when Dominic Raab admitted that they are indeed being considered in Britain - for internal and external use.
When asked on LBC whether a domestic vaccine passport – ‘where you have to show a bit of paper to go into a supermarket’ – could be brought in, Raab confirmed: ‘It’s something that hasn’t been ruled out and is under consideration, but of course you’ve got to make it workable.’
The Foreign Secretary continued: ‘You’ve got to know that the document that’s being presented is something that you can rely on, that it’s an accurate reflection of the status of the individual. So I’m not sure there’s a fool proof answer in the way that sometimes it’s presented, but of course we’ll look at all the options.’
So, in the space of a week, we have moved from ruling out vaccine passports to looking ‘at all the options’, including internal ID cards based on the notion of greater internal access to those who can prove immuno-privilege (as Israel is already planning to do). The uncomfortable questions this raises explain why on the Andrew Marr show last week, Zahawi was saying there were ‘several reasons’ the government wouldn’t introduce vaccine ID cards.
‘One, vaccines are not mandated in this country – as Boris Johnson has quite rightly reminded Parliament that’s not how we do things in the UK, we do them by consent. We yet don’t know what the impact on transmission is and it would be discriminatory.’
But none of that stopped government offshoot Innovate UK giving at least £450,000 of public grants to companies working on the vaccine ID card technology.
Enter Tony Blair, who has been advising Matt Hancock during the pandemic. He has emerged as the leading advocate of the schemes. Yesterday, writing for the Daily Mail, he said: ‘there is no prospect of a return to anything like normal without enabling people to show their Covid status, whether that means they have been vaccinated or recently tested.’
‘The arguments against it,’ he added, ‘really don’t add up.’
That’s what Blair said about the arguments against ID cards when he tried to promote them in 2004. He failed after a revolt led by (among others) Boris Johnson, who had this to say: ‘If I am ever asked 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.’
But now Blair is back in the Westminster game, advising Hancock and trying to get his ID cards back in through the back door. Hancock is of a generation of former Tory advisers who worshipped Blair, and will doubtless be all too happy to work with the Blair Foundation (now bizarrely focused on vaccine IDs) to think of all kinds of ways to get the idea past No10.
So watch this space. ID cards may soon be with us - handing Blair his last political victory.