The steady march towards medical ID cards is on, after the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of vaccine passports this week. In Westminster, the Government is set to follow suit but won’t even commit to giving MPs a vote on the matter – as though votes in the House of Commons are now gifts from ministers. Meanwhile, the Welsh government will make a decision on the matter next week.
And yet before vaccine passports have even arrived, the culture secretary has already been preparing the ground for vaccine ID requirements to be extended beyond nightclubs, stadiums and conferences to ever more spaces – “according to the public health need”. That’s hardly reassuring given how far the elastic justification of “public health” has already been stretched over the past 18 months.
You don’t have to look far for evidence of that. The very law ministers will use to impose vaccine passports is the eye-wateringly draconian Coronavirus Act. The Act’s powers for ministers to suspend elections, ban protests, quarantine people indefinitely and more were gravely nodded through Parliament in March 2020 on the premise that they were strictly temporary to meet the public health need. But 18 months later, these lingering powers are expected to be extended yet again and used in part to reorganise the country into a two-tier, checkpoint society.
The extension and endurance of vaccine passports is, likewise, surely inevitable. Mission creep is baked both into the ill-defined goals of the scheme, and the nature of executive-led politics. With the Government now setting its sights on mandatory Covid and flu vaccinations for NHS workers, it is not difficult to see how the role and content of medical IDs will grow.
Ministers want vaccine IDs to achieve something that the vaccines can’t do. Already, 90 per cent of over-16s have come forward for the jabs, and yet cases have still been rising. Thankfully, the vaccines are largely preventing serious illness and, better still, the data shows 98 per cent of adults have antibodies, but the jabs do not completely stop people from catching the virus or passing it on. And if vaccinations cannot stop infections, nor can vaccine passports.
However, the “public health need” is becoming more faith-based than fact. Given the inevitability of new variants, and the minority of people who will always refuse vaccination, the public health need will be cast immortal. At the same time, the performance of public health policies and institutions has become the basis on which freedom is meted out by the state.
If vaccine passports go ahead, the Johnson government will have made it so that no citizen has genuine freedom in Britain without carrying papers. To our British sensibilities, that is not freedom at all.
Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch