Tory rebels have said the government’s suggestion that people may need coronavirus vaccine “immunity passports” to gain entry to places like pubs and restaurants would amount to “discrimination”.
Former minister Sir Desmond Swayne appeared to liken such “vaccinationism” to sexism and racism.
It came after health minister Nadhim Zahawi, who is in charge of the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, suggested on Monday that a so-called “immunity passport” was being looked at to identify people who had the jab.
Zahawi said that hospitality and entertainment venues might insist on seeing such a “passport” from customers before they were allowed entry, and that ministers were “looking at the technology” so people could show they had a Covid-19 jab.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has since insisted “that’s not the plan”.
But Tory lockdown sceptics lashed out at the proposals in Tuesday’s Commons debate on Boris Johnson’s new tougher tiered coronavirus restrictions, due to be introduced on Wednesday.
Swayne said immunity passports would be “absolutely disproportionate” to the threat posed by Covid and would set a “terrible precedent” for other vaccines and medicines.
The New Forest West MP went on: “The way to persuade people to have a vaccine is of course to line up the entire government and its ministers and their loved ones and let them take it first and then get all the luvvies, the icons of popular culture, out on the airwaves singing its praises.
“To have any kind of suggestion of coercion absolutely feeds the conspiracy theory that we are being cowed and our civil liberties are being taken away.”
Steve Baker, vice chair of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory rebels, then intervened: “Would he agree with me that it’s not enough for the government merely to refrain from coercing people?
“The government has also got to pay attention to implicit coercion – that is, if the government turns a blind eye to allowing businesses like airlines and restaurants to refuse to let people in unless they have had the vaccination, the government’s got to decide whether it’s willing to allow people to discriminate on that basis.”
Swayne replied: “That would be discrimination. It would be ‘vaccinationism’, which we must of course resist.
“The other thing that any kind of coercion would do would be to set the seal on this government’s reputation as the most authoritarian since the Commonwealth of the 1650s.”
Rising to follow Swayne’s speech, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson said: “Hard to follow the last speaker for New Forest West.”