The biggest question facing Boris Johnson is the future of his so-called vaccine passports. A few months ago, the idea was dismissed by No. 10 as ‘discriminatory’. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: ‘We are not a papers-carrying country.’ But now, without debate or democratic scrutiny, vaccine passports are quickly heading from unthinkable to unstoppable. Today, No. 10 released more details — hence the questions Johnson is facing. But bizarrely, the Prime Minister was unable to admit to any of it, and pretended to be confused by what he was being asked. This matters. If he cannot acknowledge his flagship scheme, leaving such an indefensible gulf between what his government has just published and what he has just said, he may already be in some political trouble.
His ministers use ‘vaccine passport’ as a euphemism but even this sounded awful to him. He corrected those who said ‘passport’, referring instead to a ‘Covid status certification’. But a certificate doesn’t have someone’s photo on it. What he is planning is a digital identity card – but linked to NHS records and loaded with personal health data, so a bioidentity card. The BBC’s Iain Watson asked whether he would ‘like to take this opportunity to reassure sceptics that while could be useful for big events, you will not need to take a certificate to the local pub to gain entry’. Boris Johnson’s reply:
A very important thing to say to everybody listening and watching is that there is absolutely no question of people being asked to produce certification or a Covid status report when they go to the shops or to the pub garden or the hairdressers or whatever… on Monday.
A disingenuous response. No one was asking about Monday. It’s about the new system he left Michael Gove is charge of, for use in the summer after the PM’s final 21 June roadmap deadline has passed. The conclusion of the government’s first lockdown review, published today, primarily looks at vaccine passports and international travel.