Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of bringing in Covid vaccine passports “by stealth” after a change in the NHS app which allows venues in the UK to seek proof that customers are double-jabbed.
The wording on the NHS Covid app has been changed to include a “domestic” section, which tells people they may need to show the pass “at places that have chosen to use the service”.
The Liberal Democrats expressed outrage at the move – claiming the government had introduced a new form of Covid certification onto the nation’s phones without seeking MPs consent.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has called on Mr Johnson to recall parliament so MPs can debate the issue.
In a letter to the prime minister, Sir Ed accused him of introducing “Covid ID cards onto the nation’s phones by stealth – without even a whisper from ministers or any scrutiny in parliament”.
Previously, NHS Covid app users were given the choice of using it to show their vaccination status for foreign travel, or at one of the government’s pilot sporting events.
But the government said it wants to bring in compulsory Covid vaccination certification for nightclubs and other large, crowded venues by the end of September.
Mr Johnson has said proof of double-vaccination will be required at such venues – but promised MPs a vote on any changes that would make the vaccine certification mandatory.
The Lib Dems and a group of around 40 backbench Tory MPs remain firmly opposed to any push towards vaccine passport use in shops, restaurants, nightclubs and any other domestic setting.
Dozens of Tory, Lib Dem and several Labour MPs have signed a Big Brother Watch declaration against denying individuals “access to general services, businesses or jobs”. Hospitality industry chiefs also remained opposed.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said earlier this week that he is ready to support “passports plus testing” to enable mass-attendance events to admit large audiences – but said he would rule out vaccine passport checks to access healthcare or food shops.
Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “The Conservatives are no strangers to a U-turn, they should have no problem with doing the right thing and scrapping vaccine passports for good.
“At least when Tony Blair tried to introduce ID cards he put a bill to parliament, this lot won’t even open up parliament to debate it. They must recall parliament now if they are serious about this.”
The Lib Dem MP added: “To get your vaccine passport, you have to type and click through a bunch of options. Just think of the faff getting into hospitality businesses, who don’t want it and can’t afford to pay staff to police it.”
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab suggested earlier on Thursday that vaccine passports were a way of “coaxing and cajoling” more people into getting their jabs.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I was in France earlier this week. We’ve seen when they signalled in various different areas that you would need double vaccination in order to proceed in one or other area you got a big surge of people getting the double vaccinations.”
Mr Raab also suggested it was a “smart policy” for employers to ensure their staff have been double jabbed before returning to the office. “Whether or not there should be legal rules, I think we need to look at carefully,” he told Sky News.