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Fri Apr 2, 2021, 03:57 AM

Exclusive: Covid vaccine passports would be un-British, says Sir Keir Starmer


Covid passports being used for everyday social activities once the pandemic has eased would be against the "British instinct", Sir Keir Starmer has told The Telegraph. In his most critical comments on the idea to date, the Labour leader said in an interview that the Government must not leave it to pub landlords to decide whether to make such checks. Sir Keir stressed that using Covid status certificates in the UK was a complex issue, adding that he would scrutinise government proposals before deciding whether to oppose them. But he said: "My instinct is that, as the vaccine is rolled out, as the number of hospital admissions and deaths go down, there will be a British sense that we don't actually want to go down this road." The remarks increase the possibility that the Government could struggle to find the votes to get any Covid passport proposals through the House of Commons, given that the Liberal Democrats and scores of Tory rebels oppose the plans.

Last week, Boris Johnson said he would be open to Covid certificates being used in pubs, which government sources clarified could mean checks for a Covid jab, a negative test or antibodies for the virus. No final decisions have been made, but the Government is considering allowing such checks to be used at everything from football matches and concerts to business conferences. The first indication of firm proposals is expected next Monday when Mr Johnson provides an update on a review into Covid certificates being led by Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Both Mr Johnson and Mr Gove had previously expressed opposition to such ideas, but have recently signalled that they could be in favour of such a scheme. New UK statistics have shown a 40 per cent drop in weekly Covid deaths, down from 552 to 332 in the last seven days. The weekly number of Covid hospitalisations dropped around a quarter, to 2,321.

During his interview, Sir Keir also attempted to reposition Labour on crime and policing, stressing that it has not been "strong" enough on the issue in recent years. He called for tougher sentences for people who assault key pandemic workers such as shop staff and a lower bar for when police officers should investigate persistent antisocial behaviour. He also said there was "no case" for Britain rejoining the European Union and revealed that he had not talked to his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, for five months. But some of his most eye-catching comments came on Covid passports – an issue that has made headlines in the last week after the Prime Minister's openness to pubs using them. "I think this is really difficult and I'm not going to pretend there's a clear black and white, yes-no easy answer on this. It is extremely difficult," he said. Sir Keir added that Covid passports for international travel were inevitable and the focus of the Government should be on maximising the vaccine rollout, but said: "My instinct is that… [if] we get the virus properly under control, the death rates are near zero, hospital admissions very, very low, that the British instinct in those circumstances will be against vaccine passports."

He stressed that he wanted to find a cross-party consensus on the issue and would only decide Labour's stance once he had studied detailed proposals from the Government. But he made it clear that he was against Mr Johnson's idea of letting pubs decide themselves, saying: "I think this idea that we sort of outsource this to individual landlords is just wrong in principle." His comments are likely be cheered by lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs who have vowed to force the Government to abandon plans for Covid passports for pubs. Mr Gove held private talks with opponents of the idea across the political spectrum earlier this week in an attempt to head off early vocal criticism. Government sources have repeatedly stressed that his review is taking in looking at the moral and ethical implications of using Covid passports within Britain. It is understood one idea being looked at is for the NHS app, which is available on smartphones, to be used to allow people to show their verified Covid status. It remains to be seen under what circumstances the Government would allow Covid status checks to be carried out and what legislative route it would take to bring that about.


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