Nicola Sturgeon is under growing pressure to dump plans for Covid vaccine passports in Scotland after the UK health secretary confirmed a similar scheme for England has been scrapped.
The certification, which would restrict access to nightclubs and other large events, was expected to be introduced south of the border at the end of this month but has come in for fierce criticism from venues and a number of MPs.
Savid Javid confirmed what appeared to be a screeching U-turn from the UK Government on Sunday as ministers bowed to growing anger from Conservative backbenchers and business owners.
He said UK officials had looked at the evidence and decided against going ahead with the scheme but would “keep it in reserve as a potential option”.
‘We were right to look at it’
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Javid said: “We just shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it or because others are doing it, and we should look at every possible intervention properly.
“I’ve never liked the idea of saying to people you must show your papers or something to do what is just an everyday activity, but we were right to properly look at it.
“We’ve looked at it properly and, whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I’m pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”
Asked if the government was “running scared” following criticism from backbenchers, Mr Javid rejected this, insisting passports are not needed because of a “wall of defence” including high vaccine uptake, testing, surveillance and new treatments.
His surprise announcement could hardly come at a more inauspicious time for Scottish ministers, with SNP and Green MSPs pushing through a vote at Holyrood last Thursday that will see vaccine passports come into force across Scotland from October 1.
The Scottish Government would not say whether it has seen the same evidence referenced by Mr Javid but his announcement immediately reignited calls for Nicola Sturgeon to reconsider the plans in Scotland.
The Welsh Government confirmed the issue is still being considered following Mr Javid’s comment, with an announcement expected in the coming days.
It is understood there are no current plans for any such scheme in Northern Ireland, so Scotland could become the only one of the UK’s four nations to introduce vaccine passports.
Ms Sturgeon defended the decision during an interview on Sunday, saying it is part of a “package” of measures to keep the public safe.
Appearing on Trevor Phillips on Sunday on Sky News, she said: “People can take on balance views, I think as a part of a package of measures it has a part to play.
“Anybody who thinks there is one single magic wand to this virus probably hasn’t learned enough over the past 18 months and of course any measure we take has upsides and downsides.”
She continued: “Nothing is straightforward here. This is a very limited scheme. Will it reduce the likelihood of people not yet vaccinated to come forward? I’m not sure there is any evidence of that.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the Scottish Government “bulldozed their scheme through Holyrood without any thought for the livelihoods it would affect”.
“It was rushed, riddled with holes and no thought was given to how businesses would be impacted. No alternatives were considered,” he said.
“The SNP should reflect on their half-baked plans that only passed in Holyrood with the votes of SNP and Green politicians.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP called on the Scottish government to follow the UK government’s lead and drop its plans.
He said: “The solution to the current crisis is vaccinations and a functioning contact tracing system, not Covid ID cards. You shouldn’t have to share your private medical information with someone who is not your clinician.”
Meanwhile, the chief executive of Scotland’s professional football league (SPFL) said it is “no surprise” the UK Government scrapped plans for vaccine passports.
Neil Doncaster stopped short of calling for the same to happen in Scotland, saying he “respects” the view of Parliament in voting to introduce the scheme for outdoor events of more than 10,000 people, which will cover football matches involving larger clubs.
Mr Doncaster told BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show the SPFL is “concerned” about the practicalities of delivering the scheme.
He said: “We did make it clear that when the idea of vaccine passports was first mooted that we thought it was difficult concept.
“It’s no surprise, certainly, to see the announcement this morning by the UK Government that the plans for vaccine passports will be scrapped.”
“We certainly had huge concerns about how practical they are in the context of an outdoor environment where frankly there is very little, if any, evidence that an outdoor environment, people gathering in those environments, helps to spread the virus.”
Mr Doncaster is calling for spot checks on fans rather than blanket inspections of vaccine certification, warning that the latter would risk “disorder” as fans become frustrated since most turn up shortly before kick-off.