Vaccine passports: an illiberal idea

Extinction Rebellion protesters in Parliament Square, London, behind a police cordon blocking the Sq

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill grants the police additional powers against the freedom to peaceful protest - Credit: PA Images

Civil liberties have not been in fashion this last year or so. The vast majority of us have willingly handed over our freedoms to government control, in the name of public health.

Liberal Democrats have long been wary of giving governments "temporary" powers over our basic freedoms, but in the midst of a pandemic there is an understanding that, in these special circumstances, it is necessary to forego many of our liberties in the interest of the greater good.

However, as temporary measures are extended and powers increased, our wariness has turned to alarm.

In the last few months the government has passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which grants the police additional powers against the freedom to peaceful protest - a move no reputable government would take.

Similarly the government has now extended the Coronavirus Act for an additional six months. The act, which despite its name, is not a requirement for some of the most important Covid laws, essentially gives the government a blank cheque to reduce everyone’s rights, and is as draconian as the protest bill. 

Cllr Luke Cawley-Harrison - Haringey Council

Haringey Council's Lib Dem leader Luke Cawley-Harrison said the decision not to purchase Alexandra House at the earlier, lower price had 'wasted' millions of pounds. - Credit: Haringey Lib Dems

On top of this they are looking at introducing “vaccine passports”, an idea which is illiberal, unworkable and utterly ineffective in protecting people from Covid-19.

If the government were to introduce these passports before everyone has been offered a vaccine, it would be a complete betrayal of the country’s young people, who had very little to fear from coronavirus, but gave up freedoms to protect the elderly.

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Even if passports were introduced after everyone had been offered a vaccine, we would be excluding a great number of vulnerable people from society who, for whatever reason, are medically unable to get vaccinated.

Do we really want to create a two-tier society with those not vaccinated becoming second-class citizens, unable to access the freedoms of friends, family and all others who have been inoculated?

Make no mistake, these passports will be ID cards by the back door. Worse, they will be ID cards which display our private medical data and would be a slippery slope towards a “papers please” society. 

The Lib Dems rejected Labour’s attempts at ID cards, and we will reject these proposals too. Once an authoritarian government starts to get a taste for taking away people’s civil liberties they will be very difficult to get back - and that is a very serious issue for every individual in Haringey and beyond.

  • Luke Cawley-Harrison is the leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Haringey Council.