Tuesday 6 April 2021 11:15 am

Hospitality industry slams vaccine passports as 'Hobson's choice'

The hospitality industry has slammed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suggestion that vaccine passports are on the horizon as a “Hobson’s choice” that will severely restrict businesses within the sector.

Announcing the next stages of lifting lockdown yesterday, Johnson said vaccine certifications were a “sensible” principle for reopening the economy.

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Government documents released last night revealed the Covid-status passports “could play a role in reducing social-distancing requirements” in hospitality venues.

However, critics have said venues such as pubs, bars and restaurants will be left with little choice but to introduce them if they hope to be profitable after months of closure.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said the hospitality industry was being presented with a “Hobson’s choice”.

“We have very significant concerns,” she said. “Many businesses cannot operate profitably with the social-distancing rules in place but if they have to police Covid status passports as well then the cost of compliance will be significant and the responsibility to police it will fall on staff.”

Johnson has appointed Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, to oversee a review into the passports. Gove will present his findings to the Prime Minister in June — two months after pubs, bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen.

Hospitality venues are set to resume outdoor service from next Monday, with indoor pints due for a return from 17 May.

Emma McClarkin, chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said the return of outdoor service will likely be “loss-making” for around 15,000 pubs due to reopen next week.

“With so many pubs still not opening though, it’s crucial the government sticks to its roadmap and allows pubs to reopen indoors from 17 May and without any restrictions at all from 21 June. That is the only way our pubs can trade viably and begin to fully recover,” she said.

“We continue to have deep concerns over the government’s proposals around vaccine passports and changes to guidelines on how pubs will operate once they reopen. Not allowing customers to pay at the bar for food or drink in pubs, but allowing it in cafés or shops, is completely unfair and illogical.”

A flash survey carried out by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) this morning showed that more than 70 per cent of firms in the hospitality sector opposed the introduction of domestic vaccine passports and said it would damage business.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the NTIA, said there was a “stark disparity” between the way night time economy businesses were being treated by the government.

“If retail, supermarkets, public transport, hotels, pubs and restaurants are excluded from the use of Covid Status Certification… why would nightclubs and other environments be expected to ask customers to present Covid Status Certification as a prerequisite or requirement of entry?” he said.

More than 70 MPs have signed a letter condemning the proposal as “divisive and discriminatory”, including around 40 politicians from Johnson’s own party.

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told City A.M. last week that there is “a lot of concern about” the possibility of domestic vaccine passports among the Tory ranks.

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 “I just don’t see how it will work and the hospitality sector is up in arms – it’s very difficult to implement and it’s really intrusive,” he said. “We’re planning on having everyone vaccinated, so why would you have vaccine passports?”

Former Cabinet minister David Davis told City A.M: “Whitehall salivates over identity management. I don’t want Whitehall managing my identity very much, my identity belongs to me not to the state, and I don’t want them utilising my data.”