PM faces Covid passports showdown as Labour expresses scepticism

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
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We are sticking to the plan: that’s what Boris Johnson told the public in his latest Covid briefing yesterday. “We see nothing in the present data that makes us think that we will have to deviate from that roadmap,” the Prime Minister said. SAGE members noted ahead of his appearance that the reopening of venues next week, with outdoor service only at pubs and restaurants, is “highly unlikely” to overwhelm the NHS. But they also warned that further restriction easing from May could result in a third wave of the virus as bad as that seen over the winter. Chris Whitty told those watching yesterday that the country will see “significant problems with Covid for the foreseeable future”.

The PM faces a possible showdown with MPs over vaccine passports, or Covid status certification as he likes to call it. He told the public that there is “absolutely no question” of punters having to produce papers to get into pubs next Monday, nor are there plans for this when indoor hospitality reopens in May, but that ministers are looking at bringing in the certification from June. The proposal has seen the likes of Iain Duncan Smith and Jeremy Corbyn united as unlikely allies: more than 70 MPs, including 40 Conservatives, signed a pledge against the “divisive and discriminatory” measure. Were Labour to oppose the idea in a parliamentary vote, along with a number of Tory backbenchers, Johnson could be looking at defeat.

Labour has signalled that it would vote against the plans as they are known so far, after Keir Starmer argued last week that the “British instinct” would be against domestic Covid passports. Sources last night said the party would oppose the policy given “what we’ve seen and discussed with ministers”, adding that the plans “appear poorly thought through, will put added burdens on business and run the risk of becoming another expensive Whitehall project that gets outsourced to friends of Tory ministers”. Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said this morning that Labour would “have to be convinced” to vote for the measures but that he “could not support” a system of “digital ID cards” in shops.

new poll has the Tories on a seven-point lead in Hartlepool. Labour won the seat in 2019 with a 37% vote share but, as Labour sources have pointed out, the party would have lost the seat in 2019 if it had not been for the Brexit Party. According to Survation, 49% of voters are now backing Tory candidate Jill Mortimer while 42% support Labour’s Dr Paul Williams. Notable is the large body of undecided voters, at 28%. In the 2019 election, 21% of that 28% voted Labour, 19% voted Conservative and 31% voted for the Brexit Party. How former Labour supporters who switched to the Brexit Party in the last general election vote in May will be crucial.

Starmer apologised yesterday for the “hurt” caused by his visit last week to London church Jesus House with a senior pastor who has spoken out against same-sex marriage and LGBT+ equality legislation. Rachel Reeves had defended the Labour leader’s visit earlier on Monday, claiming that he was “visiting a vaccine centre” rather than endorsing the views of worshippers there. LGBT+ Labour said it received an “unreserved apology” from the leader’s office but this had not been made public until Starmer later made a public apology and deleted the video tweet of the visit. You can read the full write-up here. Also on LabourList, we marked the one-year anniversary of Starmer as Labour leader with an in-depth look at views from across the party on his approach to Covid, controversial legislation, PMQs, internal reforms, antisemitism and anti-Black racism over the past year. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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