Sir David Davis writes on illiberal and dangerous vaccine passports

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As published by: Perspective Magazine

The principal reason the UK has such a long and illustrious history as a great nation is freedom. Be that freedom of thought or belief, freedom of speech or assembly, or freedom under the law, freedom has been fundamental to defining the very nation we are today. It has shaped our culture, society, scientific achievements, economy, and literature. passports

In normal circumstances, these defining principles would be at the heart of any and all policies enacted by a Conservative government. Yet when faced with the biggest health crisis in a century, it is somewhat understandable that we put the collective health of our people ahead of individual rights.

But even during a crisis, there must be limits to executive power. Sadly, over the past eighteen months, this government has all too often lost sight of our defining principles. Instead, it has sought to implement draconian, illiberal, and extreme policies that fail in any sense to protect the health of the nation at large.

Take, for example, the fact that police drones chased dog walkers. Or that lone doctors were given the power to section people without a second opinion. Or that families were unable to visit dying loved ones. None of these actions protected the public; in fact, they often did tremendous harm. In normal times we would not stand for such massive state overreach.

So with huge medical strides forward, it is now imperative that we stop any further erosion of our civil liberties. And that begins with fighting off the spectre of vaccine passports.

We have never been a country that demands to see papers for the simple pleasures of visiting a cinema, a restaurant, or a pub. We are free to go about our business without government interference and without perhaps really appreciating the freedoms we enjoy. The hard reality is that freedom only matters when taken away, which is what vaccine passports do.

It seems that ministers are surrendering to Whitehall’s long-held infatuation with identity management and giving away our right to privacy in the process. Only recently, the Department for Health and Social Care published their policy paper outlining just how vaccine passports would be implemented in a “Plan B” situation.

The detail on what would constitute a move to “Plan B” was suitably vague, with the paper saying vaccine passports would be introduced in response to “concerning data”. What would count as “concerning” is left undefined.

Rather than wasting time publishing these papers, the government should instead be encouraging uptake through public health campaigns and targeting groups that have been reluctant to get vaccinated for one reason or another. Instead, ministers blindly pursue this nonsensical, illiberal policy that undermines our privacy and is only doomed to fail.

UK studies suggest those vaccinated but infected with the dominant Delta variant may host virus levels just as high as unvaccinated people. The US Center for Disease Control has come to the same conclusion, warning that fully vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant can still infect others.

Given these findings, a vaccine passport does nothing but give a false sense of security for those using them to visit those settings. So not only are vaccine passports a wholly illiberal policy, but they are also downright dangerous.

Moreover, it appears the arguments being put forward on the grounds of public protection are only part of what the government is up to here. Vaccine passports appear to be an unsubtle and incompetent attempt to force young people into getting vaccinated so they can indulge in their hobbies and enjoy their lives.

That, to me, is nothing less than coercion. It is wrong, and we should not stand for it. At the Conservative Party conference, I made this point only to find that these powerful, carefully researched truths were unacceptable for YouTube. The tech giant removed a video of my speech on vaccine passports accusing me of breaching their policies and spreading “medical misinformation”.

I know that my speech was properly substantiated with the latest scientific evidence – including Public Health England information – and was a fair, accurate, and thoughtful contribution to a live public policy debate.

Upon further investigation, YouTube stated that it “doesn’t allow claims about Covid-19 vaccinations that contradict expert consensus from local health authorities or the World Health Organisation.”

Let me be clear, I am a strong supporter of vaccines. I tweeted about receiving my jab to encourage others that it is safe. I am a fierce proponent of scientific reason. But YouTube’s actions were the very antithesis of evidenced-based progress.

A fundamental tenet of science is debate, challenging the status quo, and being unafraid to test ideas. But none of that is possible if arbitrary rules from tech giants stifle debate from half a world away.

It is right and proper that we discuss the big issues of the day based upon the best available evidence. Vaccine passports have no health benefits, quite the reverse – they will encourage behaviour that spreads the disease rather than curtailing it. They will not fulfil the government’s stated aims of protecting people. Instead, they are merely a façade to coerce people into having the vaccine. We must oppose them with all our might.

There should be no doubt that vaccine passports are a dangerous and abhorrent step that will destroy centuries of British freedoms – that must not be our legacy.

David Davis is Former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and leading campaigner on privacy and civil liberties