Industry leaders and trade unions have roundly condemned Boris Johnson’s proposal that pubs could refuse entry to customers unable to prove they have been vaccinated, branding the idea “simply unworkable” and warning it would “almost certainly result in breaches of equality rules”.
The prime minister told MPs on Wednesday that whether a vaccine certificate could be required to enter a pub “may be up to individual publicans, it may be up to the landlord”.
Cabinet office minister Michael Gove is currently reviewing the possible use of coronavirus certificates, which the government has suggested could help to remove social distancing rules and reopen the economy.
But the suggestion has led to outcry from leaders in the UK’s hospitality industry as well as unions representing pub staff, who say the idea is unfeasible and likely to create tensions for the workers who have to enforce it.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “It’s crucial that visiting the pub and other parts of hospitality should not be subject to mandatory vaccination certification. It is simply unworkable, would cause conflict between staff and customers and almost certainly result in breaches of equality rules.
“Through the success of the vaccine rollout we need to throw off the shackles of coronavirus in line with the government’s roadmap – not impose more checks on our ability to socialise and do business.”
She added that the association will “continue to work closely with the government in developing guidelines for a safe and sustainable reopening in April and May”.
Nick Mackenzie, the chief executive of the Greene King pub chain rejected the idea, saying that it “would be impractical, could be discriminatory”, and labelling it “unacceptable” for the company’s team members, half of whom are under 25, “to have to police these measures and deal with the fall-out from the significant number of customers who won’t have received a vaccine”.
The boss of the Shepherd Neame chain said that making vaccinations mandatory for entry to pubs is a “fairly poorly thought-out idea”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Jonathan Neame added: “The whole essence of a pub is that they are diverse and inclusive environments, where everybody, and families in particular, are extremely welcome.
“I mean imagine a scene where a family is reconnecting for the first time after this crisis, where grandpa’s forgotten his vaccination certificate, mum is pregnant, and the kids are too young to have had it yet – who’s going to make the judgment on the door on that occasion?”
Mr Neame raised the question of whether the rule could be discriminatory, saying while pubs can exclude people for bad behaviour or drunkenness it was a “wholly different issue” to “exclude people for what they are, or what they have not done”. He warned it “touches on… discrimination, civil liberties, and data protection issues.”
The UK’s largest trade union has also come out against proposed policy, with Unite slamming it as a “terrible idea” that could put staff at risk of violence.
Dave Turnbull, Unite’s national officer for hospitality, said the policy would mean that pub staff who are untrained in policing entry are “basically expected to act as door supervisors”, which he warned could result in “an increased likelihood of being exposed to violence”.
He added: “It’s a terrible idea that would put bar staff, already dealing with low pay and insecure contracts, into potentially dangerous situations. Unite will be doing everything possible to ensure that our hospitality members are protected from having to act as security staff.”
JD Wetherspoon, whose owner Tim Martin has been a vocal critic of pub closures during the coronavirus pandemic, would not comment on the issue.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said it would be wrong to leave it up to landlords’ discretion, telling ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “If this was really a public health measure, you wouldn’t be saying, ‘Well, it is going to be a landlord discretion’ – you’d be saying, ‘This is the government’s view, this is what’s safe’.”