MPs will debate the issue of vaccine passports after more than a quarter of a million people have signed a petition urging the government not to introduce them. But the signatories may end up disappointed, given Michael Gove’s previous comments on a very similar issue.
Gove has been given the role of overseeing a review into the ethical issues of vaccine passports. The review will consider the practicalities of introducing the passports, with the pre-existing NHS app a potential candidate for storing vaccination details.
At this stage, there are no plans for the government to make vaccine passports mandatory and it is even possible that they may choose to prohibit businesses from withholding their services from people who have not been vaccinated.
However, the idea of vaccine passports is gaining traction. According to YouGov, more people are in favour of vaccine passports than are actively against them. 77% of the over 65s are in favour of vaccine passports being rolled out across the UK. And even among the 18 to 24s, there is 47% support for the idea.
Taking the population as a whole, 48% of Britons believe you should need to show proof of vaccination in order to enter a pub, with just 41% saying you should not.
This is not the first time that a form of national ID has been considered by the government. In fact, during his time as home secretary, the Leaders Council’s own David Blunkett pioneered the scheme to introduce them.
By the time he left the home office, the idea was still very much in the ascendancy and, indeed, a bill to introduce them was included in the November 2004 Queen’s Speech. Back then, the primary motivation was to help combat terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11. It was also thought that the cards could reduce illegal immigration and the misuse of public services.
In proposing the idea, Blunkett was enthusiastically supported by a young columnist in The Times.
Writing on April 27 2004, under the heading ‘Why David Blunkett is the real civil libertarian’, the columnist, who was typically renowned for his belief in small-government, said, ‘I’m no longer anything like convinced that the liberal prejudice against ID cards, or incarceration without trial, is a wise presumption. And I’m no longer persuaded that the progressive consensus which denounces David Blunkett as an illiberal populist for rethinking our civil liberties is actually all that progressive.’
He went on to say ‘there are real potential gains from ID cards in dealing with significant policy problems’ and concluded that the biggest benefit of the cards was their potential to lessen the risk to society and increase people’s chances of survival.
There are no prizes for guessing that the columnist in question was Michael Gove.
2004 was a different world from the one with live in now but Gove’s comments on ID cards are likely to cause alarm for the quarter of a million people who signed the petition against the introduction of vaccine passports.
However, as recently as Dec 1, a prominent government minister said, ‘I certainly am not planning to introduce any vaccine passports, and I don't know anyone else in government who is.’
There are no prizes for guessing this minister’s identity either.
But in the same interview, when was asked if there would be a third national lockdown, Gove replied, ‘I’m as confident as confident can be that we won’t need one.’
In short, therefore, Gove has a track record of valuing security above liberty, and of saying one thing and doing another. With Gove in charge of the vaccine passport review, it is safe to say it could go either way.