They vehemently denied it. For months it appeared half the Cabinet was busy quashing rumors that national vaccine passports would one day feature in English daily life. On many occasions, Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi has ruled out the introduction of a system he has called “discriminatory”. “This is not how we do things. We do them by consent, ”he said haughtily in February.
The Prime Minister also mocked, before inserting the mandate in his speech in the laughable name of “Freedom Day”, delivered from captivity to Checkers. From September, a double vaccination would be mandatory to enter nightclubs and other “crowded events”. “Proof of a negative test will no longer suffice.” It also proved that his government’s goals now go beyond simply ‘protecting’ the NHS during a pandemic and into the realm of long-term coercive control.
Those who warned against vaccine passports; be it on the grounds of discrimination, ethics or practicality, they have been told repeatedly not to worry, that this is all a crazy conspiracy theory. Even now, many are convinced that this decision will never take place – it is just a bluff to have the youngster double vaccinated, copying Emmanuel Macron’s interventions in France.
Certainly, to see this policy adopted, the government must know that it would face serious resistance from Parliament, as well as legal challenges elsewhere. An unlikely coalition is opposed: the Corbynistas, the Greens, the Lib Dems and the Shire Tories. Some Conservative backbenchers have supported the government so far; but only on condition that things like national Covid passes don’t happen. So ministers can never follow through on this cynical ultimatum. But what a rotten way of doing politics; lying to the public, treating them less as rational citizens than gullible laboratory rats to “push” (or coax them) to conform. It can achieve short-term goals, but at a price: erosion of trust.
If the alternative is true, however, and ministers’ intentions are truly to push through this policy – and the previous form of goalpost relocation suggests we should take the government’s words seriously – the consequences could be. unthinkable. For the first time in living memory, we would grant domestic privileges based on state of health; transform the relationship between individuals and the state. Daily activities would become subject to a medical procedure. Free association would no longer be a right, but a privilege conferred by the government. This would usher in a “papers please” mentality hitherto unknown in peacetime.
Number 10 has provided few disturbing details so far, but the PM’s intervention raises big questions. How would such a regime work and where would it end? History suggests that after wresting powers during an emergency, governments are reluctant to relinquish them. It seems highly unlikely that after building up a large certification infrastructure at great expense, it will simply be dismantled when the “crisis” is over. More likely, it would be used for other data sharing programs; maybe even identity cards, which Britain has always resisted.
What would prevent it from being extended to other health problems? Once the Covid status is relevant, why not other infectious diseases that kill thousands of people each year, like the flu? Will the state, or the companies that manage the application, be able to follow our movements? The existing NHS application already requires personal data unrelated to the immunization status of users. How would they protect our privacy, a relevant question given the history of NHS data breaches? Throughout the pandemic, legislation came into force without parliamentary debate or vote. How quickly that too could become Orwellian, with little proper control.
It’s a slippery slope. Night clubs are an easy starting point; young clubbers hopping until dawn won’t be a priority for most, but once established, the premise will become more difficult to resist elsewhere. Places of worship, weddings, and bustling pubs might not be far behind. Just yesterday, Tory Minister Paul Scully insisted that Covid passes would never be needed for pubs, only for No.10 to issue a quick contradiction, confirming that he “didn’t had not been excluded “- so watch this space.
As a low-risk 20-something-year-old, I had the pleasure of receiving my first jab last month, seeing it as a small (and voluntary) contribution to herd immunity. But I certainly did not do it so that a small unvaccinated minority could be excluded from the public sphere or pushed into compliance. And for what purpose? While vaccines are brilliant at protecting against hospitalization and death, they are less effective at reducing transmission – hence the reason some double vaccines have since been re-infected. We would overturn social and public health standards on an illogical premise.
The government may not be staging a grand conspiracy to turn Britain into a Chinese-style social credit system, zealously monitoring citizen behavior to allow or deny basic rights. But sometimes weakness and incompetence can send a country in a similar direction. People may not care about clubs or the young people who frequent them. But they should be concerned about a paradigm shift that undermines all of our freedoms.