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Could ‘Pub Passports’ be the hottest tickets of 2021?

25 March 2021

By Matthew Williams

England’s three lions start their long journey to Qatar 2022 tonight, bringing back memories of their last competitive World Cup match against Croatia and *that* freekick which sent thousands of pubs across the country into one united frenzy. Fast forward nearly two years, and pubs showing this summer’s European Championship will feel very different.

Yesterday, PM Boris Johnson told the Liaison Committee that pub landlords may be able to refuse customers who have not been vaccinated. Mr Johnson said: “I think that's the kind of thing that may be up to individual publicans, it may be up to the landlord.” This position is a stark departure from two months ago when Government Ministers’ argued that making people reveal such information was “against British values”.

The comments triggered an immediate backlash, with many arguing the idea of ‘vaccine passports’ leads to unintended discrimination. These thoughts are echoed by Conservative backbench MP and COVID Recovery Group Deputy Chair Steve Baker, who claims such certificates could create a “ghastly trap” leading to a “two-tier” society. It is important to remember that the vaccine is not compulsory, and with many people patiently waiting to receive their first injection, denying them right to attend places such as pubs may be seen as ethically dubious.

Restaurants and bars - which have suffered a tremendous amount over the past twelve months - may argue that the plans to provide proof of vaccination could allow them to ditch social distancing requirements to increase income, boosting the economy while creating a relaxed environment for pub-goers. Many also claim it will give an incentive to get the jab, which has already been demonstrated in Israel, where the lure of pubs and bars has encouraged younger people to get vaccinated.

However, questions remain over how pubs and restaurants are meant to enforce these rules. Is it realistic to expect overburdened publicans to deal with irate un-vaccinated customers? Refusing pub-goers may be a lot easier said than done, especially when they may have had a drink at a pub next door.

As we await Michael Gove’s broader report on domestic vaccine certificates, the conversation around vaccine passports is only likely to intensify as more and more services are rumoured to require such certification. Interestingly, The Telegraph’s initial studies reveal majority support for the plans, with only 17% against the idea of “pub passports”. Despite the public’s support, Chair of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady claimed “the big problem” yet to be seen is the “unintended discrimination” which may occur, meaning the football may not be the only drama in our pubs this summer.