Plans to make Covid-19 passports a legal requirement for large events are set to be dropped, The Telegraph understands. Officials working on the review into Covid-19 status certification believe there is no chance the law will be changed to mandate their use within the UK. “It’s not a case of ‘it’s finely balanced’. It’s not going to happen,” said one well-placed government source close to the review. “Everyone says it’s dead.”
It comes as ministers examine data to determine whether the lifting of restrictions can continue as planned from June 21 in England, when it was hoped that the public would be able to return in greater numbers to mass events such as football matches and concerts. The Government first expressed interest in Covid passports in February, when a review into their use domestically was launched as part of Boris Johnson's reopening roadmap for England.
Since then, ministers defined such checks as showing proof of three things: having had a Covid jab, a recent negative test, or antibodies after catching the virus. Ethical concerns Showing proof of a jab has become accepted for international travel, given that some countries demand evidence for entry, and UK travellers are already able to do so via the NHS app. However, their use within the UK is much more controversial, with critics warning that making people show proof of their medical status for social events raises serious ethical questions.
Government ministers had been looking at changing the law to require Covid-19 passports at events such as football matches, concerts, festivals and business conferences. The Prime Minister has already ruled out their use for essential activities such as visiting the supermarket or the GP, and indicated he is not in favour of their use by pubs and restaurants. Plans ‘killed off’ as complications arise.
However, figures on the Covid-19 taskforce, which sits in the Cabinet Office and has been looking into Covid-19 status certification, are now said to believe they will not be legally required at all.
The well-placed source told The Telegraph: “No one is talking about it still as a potential thing … It has been killed off really.”
Papers submitted to the Covid-19 Operations cabinet committee earlier this month, details of which have been shared with The Telegraph, help explain the diminishing interest. They are understood to have noted that the NHS app could not have been used by foreign visitors, undercutting the system.
The papers also noted that there are some medical exemptions to getting jabs, including people who have allergic reactions and the young, which complicate matters. Previously ministers in private meetings have raised concerns about what the exact health benefit of Covid-19 passports would be, pressing officials to be clearer about the rationale. Another reason for the diminishing enthusiasm is the low level of cases and a growing number of vaccinated Britons, meaning the health benefit is less clear, point ministers have privately stressed.
The final sign-off for that decision is yet to be made.
Gove and Johnson both reluctant Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister overseeing the review, is yet to submit his recommendations to Mr Johnson. But sources close to both figures say they are instinctively reluctant to adopt the plans.
Furthermore, Israel, the country whose adoption of Covid-19 passports became the template studied closely by the UK (including a trip there from Mr Gove) will drop its "green pass" soon, because so many of its citizens are now vaccinated. That decision has been carefully noted by ministers. The Government decided not to change the law to force large events to use the passports would not in itself mean that such schemes are never adopted. A government update on the review in April said there was nothing stopping companies from asking for proof of Covid-19 status before granting entry, providing they do not breach equalities laws. Work on the NHS app, which is being converted to be able to show proof of a jab, negative test or antibodies, is likely to continue, given that it is being used for international travel. Government ministers may also choose to look again at Covid-19 passports for the autumn and winter, arguing that a sudden deterioration in the Covid situation could see the idea return.
Backbench triumph However, the decision not to announce legal changes to mandate Covid-19 passports would be treated as a triumph by backbench Tory MPs, who vowed to join with Labour rebels to defeat the move. Mr Gove, appearing before a select committee on Thursday, hinted at the softening position as he stressed that the Government was not yet committed to bringing in Covid-19 passports.
He said: "I think there's been a perception among some, not in this committee, that the Government has locked on to this in the same way as JFK said that he was going to put a man on the moon, that we're going to introduce a policy for certification come what may, hell or high water.
“That's not the case. We've been looking at it pragmatically, to see if it can add value and, if not, then we would not press ahead with it.”
A Whitehall source said: “Michael has been listening very carefully to the arguments for and against Covid certification and the review has left no stone unturned in examining whether there is a case for them domestically. He will make recommendations to the PM soon".
A government spokesman said: “The Covid status certification review is ongoing and no final decisions have been taken yet. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will update Parliament after recess.”