Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has said vaccine passports would be “the last straw” for struggling pubs and force bar staff into a “bitter civil liberties war” with customers.
Conservative backbenchers, publicans and some scientists have raised concerns over the possible introduction of coronavirus health certificates as England’s lockdown is eased.
Ministers are studying their potential use, which could see access to venues granted only if customers have been jabbed, received negative tests, or developed antibodies through past infection.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden argued on Sunday that vaccine passports will not be introduced on a “permanent basis” but they could be a beneficial tool to restart safely in the short-term.
But, writing in the Telegraph, Martin said “there is no justification for a passport system”.
The chairman of the pub chain said: “For many pubs, hanging on for dear life and devastated by G-force changes of direction, a complex and controversial passport scheme would be the last straw.
“It would inevitably put pub staff in the frontline of a bitter civil liberties war, with some customers unwilling to be vaccinated or unable to have a jab for medical reasons.”
Dowden, whose brief includes theatres, where certificates could be valuable in relaxing social distancing, had insisted “we need to look at all options” for safely easing restrictions.
“Of course we would never look to do this on a permanent basis, it’s just whether it might be a tool in the short term,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.
Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said he is prepared to consider their use provided they are “fair and reliable”.
“I think there are definitely prizes to be won through domestic vaccine certification, but there are very big practical and ethical challenges to face as well,” he told Marr.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), said the use of passports “certainly” had to be considered to make post-lockdown life safe.
“For those activities that it is difficult to make completely safe – I am thinking things like nightclubs, large concerts, mass gatherings – that’s where passports come in, whether it is vaccine passports, test negative passports or even immunity passports,” he told Marr.
However, his Spi-B colleague Professor Stephen Reicher said that certificates could compound hesitancy in those already sceptical of vaccines and could therefore be counterproductive by causing lower uptake.
He also warned they could lead to “social division”.
Pub landlords this week rejected Boris Johnson’s suggestion that it could be up to them to decide whether to screen customers’ certificates on entry.
The prime minister acknowledged the “moral complexities” around a domestic vaccine passport scheme, on which the government will set out more details in early April.
A Whitehall source said one possibility being considered is that landlords may be able to scrap social distancing if they check Covid health certificates on entry.
The move would allow them to operate at much higher capacity and could be a strong incentive for them to participate in the scheme.