So-Called Opposition: Labour MP Refuses to Confirm Whether Party Will Back Tories’ Vaccine Passports

A protestor displays an anti-vax placard during a 'Unite For Freedom' march against Covid-19 vaccinations and government lockdown restrictions, in Trafalgar Square, central London on May 29, 2021. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

A Labour shadow minister had avoided four times answering whether her party opposes the Conservative government’s plans to introduce domestic vaccine passports for nightclubs, in the lastest unclear statement from Labour five months after leader Keir Starmer branded vaccine passports against “British instinct”.

On July 19th — so-called ‘Freedom Day’ when the last of most of the government’s coronavirus restrictions had been lifted — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that from late September, proof of double vaccination would be required for entry to nightclubs and “other venues where large crowds gather”. This week, Johnson’s office doubled down on the pledge, with his spokesman adding that indeed, the requirement for vaccination could be required for “some other settings”, yet to be revealed to the public.

The government is set to make its proposals in the coming weeks, but with the Conservatives having a strong majority in the House of Commons, it would take a party rebellion as well as opposition parties, mainly Labour, to defeat the measures at a vote.

MPs are due to return next week, and talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer asked Labour’s Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Gill MP on Thursday where Labour officially stands on the issue.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the evidence suggests, but at this moment in time, I don’t see how this is really going to work,” the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston said, appearing to imply that objection may be down to the practicalities of enforcing vaccine passports, not party convictions.

Asked again to clarify whether that meant Labour was opposed to vaccine passports, Ms Gill said: “What we’re saying is, we’ll have to wait and see for the detail for what the government is going to put forward.”

“It’s got to be about common sense. If you’re double vaccinated, you could still be carrying the virus,” Gill continued, suggesting that Labour’s position may not be dependent on the moral aspect of demanding papers to access domestic settings, but on the efficacy at preventing infection by measuring vaccine status alone.

Indeed, Labour’s spokesman had said in July the party finds testing for access to venues “more efficient”, with party leader Sir Keir Starmer implying weeks later that he might support “passports plus testing”.

Asked a third time to clarify whether Labour had a position, Ms Gill told Ms Hartley-Brewer on Thursday: “The formal position is that what we are seeing is very little from the government… We’ll have to wait and see what the fuller detail is and what the evidence is that the government is relying on.”

“We’ll have to wait and see what the government says,” Gill responded when prompted a fourth time.

While the Liberal Democrats, of which there are only a dozen MPs in the lower house, has been consistently against vaccine passports — calling them “illiberal” and “a power grab on civil liberties” —  Labour has continued to give mixed and unclear signals.

In April, when the government was considering the measures, Starmer said that “the British instinct… will be against vaccine passports” if the virus were under control, with reports that Labour would vote against domestic vaccine certification.

By July, however, the signals from the left-wing camp began to shift, with a Labour spokesman saying that while the party “oppose[s] the use of Covid vaccination status for everyday access to venues and services”, “being double jabbed doesn’t prove you aren’t carrying the virus. Testing for access to venues would be more efficient, and would give people and businesses more certainty.”

The following day, Labour’s Khalid Mahmood said that his party will “absolutely” vote against domestic vaccine passports, stating: “That is a clear position. It’s not changing today or tomorrow.”

“I can guarantee you, he [Sir Keir] will absolutely stick to his position. It’s a position based on principle,” Mr Mahmood later added.

But that position did change days later, with Starmer suggesting he would back “passports plus testing”, before falling back on what has since been Labour’s position, to wait and see what restrictive measures the Conservative government “puts on the table”.

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