Orkney and Shetland MP and Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs, Alistair Carmichael, has pushed for assurances from government that a clear vote would be held before any mandatory vaccine passports were imposed on individuals and businesses. Mr Carmichael raised the issue in Parliament this week after the government suggested that it “reserved the right” to impose ID checks on businesses despite no approval having been sought from MPs. The Liberal Democrats have been trenchant critics of the vaccine passport proposals since they were first mooted earlier this year, arguing against them on a long list of practical and principled reasons.
Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“May I explore with the Minister what he means when he says, “We reserve the right to mandate their use in the future”? We might have hoped that the right that the Government sought to reserve was the right to seek the permission of this House to make their use mandatory in the future. I hope that this was just a small piece of ministerial arrogance that led the Minister to mis-speak, but I would like his assurance that we will be given the opportunity to express a view on this before the mandatory use of Covid identity cards is introduced.
“Last week, I asked the Secretary of State a whole range of questions about the practical consequences of this voluntary scheme. Will the Minister today answer the questions, if not necessarily for the benefit of the people in this House, then at least with a bit of respect to those who operate nightclubs, big events, restaurants, bars and others who have absolutely no idea what is going to be required of them?”
Responding for the government, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said:
“I certainly hope that I did not come across as [arrogant]. He asks several important questions. The Government will of course come back to the House if the decision is to mandate the double vaccination requirement for nightclubs, crowded unstructured indoor settings, large unstructured outdoor settings and, of course, the very large events such as business, music hall, and spectator sports events. In the meantime, we encourage the use of the NHS Covid Pass in facilities or at events where people are likely to be in close proximity to large numbers of people from other households. We are working with the sector. The sector itself will have seen what has happened in other countries such as the Netherlands. It is in the interests of all of the sector and of businesses to reopen and reopen permanently, and not have to open and close, open and close, which is why we are working with the sector in this period and giving people a chance to get their double vaccinations by the end of September.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“The fact of the matter is that the government have no coherent argument on this issue and that is why they are afraid to take a straight fight, with rumours that they will seek to avoid a direct vote on their scheme. Boris Johnson pretended to care about civil liberties before he came to power and has become a “Stalinist” libertarian – in the words of his own advisors – now he is in government.
“We need a national campaign this summer to scrap these authoritarian proposals. Liberal Democrats will oppose illiberal vaccine passport plans - no ifs, no buts.”