House of Commons
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Written by Javier Maquieira, senior associate
Edited by Katie Stanton, associate partner
18 February 2021
To travel again, what a lovely thought. If only it didn’t feel so far away. At the time of writing, neither Boris Johnson in England nor Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland is likely to give any firm date for the recommencing of travel any time soon.
But that hasn’t prevented the UK government from considering one of the most talked about options to allow foreign travel to open up again: Covid-19 immunity ‘passports’ or certificates. And while the idea may seem contentious in the immediate, especially since only 16% of the UK population has thus far received the vaccine, it would hardly be new – the UK already requires people applying for a visa from certain countries to prove they have had a recent tuberculosis test, for instance.
Many countries are already pursuing the measure with vigour. Take, for example, Israel, Cyprus, and Greece, which have reached an agreement to allow citizens with Covid-19 vaccination certificates to travel without restrictions between the three countries during the next phase of the pandemic.
In other European Union countries, the prospect of inoculation passports is getting closer, although with some reservations around data privacy and vaccine protection.
Estonia is working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) on a project to create what it hopes could become the “gold standard” of electronic vaccination certificates, and attract global recognition.
Meanwhile, the French government opened an online consultation yesterday asking for views on the implementation of vaccination passports in the country. However, France’s transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, called the debate “premature” given the pace of vaccine rollout in the EU, and warned that “making travel conditional on being vaccinated is an ethical issue and not a small one”.
Although the idea of domestic vaccine passports has also been gaining traction, on Monday the UK prime minister ruled out the introduction of coronavirus certificates for domestic activities like going to the pub. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, however, acknowledged the decision wouldn’t necessarily stop some businesses from pressing ahead with their own schemes.
As it happens, a number of companies are reportedly considering “no jab, no job” employment contracts, which could potentially leave them open to legal challenge on discrimination grounds. Writing in The Telegraph on this same topic yesterday, Philip Johnston argued that unless the government legislates to make Covid-19 certificate discrimination unlawful, the situation risks escalating to a point in which we all might have to have them – or otherwise face restricted liberties.
This should send inequality alarm bells ringing and necessitate government intervention, not only because there are some people for whom the vaccine is not suitable, but also because access is not yet available for large swathes of the population. As the debate on reopening hospitality premises, leisure venues and foreign travel rumbles slowly on, the impact of giving passport privileges must be thoroughly considered.
Fasten your seatbelts (metaphorically, of course, for now).
Imperial College London’s React study has shown a “strong decline” in levels of coronavirus infection in England since January, with an 80% fall in London. Although these are interim findings, and virus levels remain high, they suggest social distancing and restrictions are having an impact.
The UK’s Brexit negotiator, David Frost, has been appointed minister of state at the Cabinet Office to lead on Britain’s relationship with the EU. He will replace the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, as the UK chair of the partnership council that oversees the implementation and enforcement of the Brexit agreement in detail, and the withdrawal agreement joint committee.
The Duke of Edinburgh has been admitted to the King Edward VII Hospital in London as a “precautionary measure” after feeling unwell. Royal sources confirmed that the 99-year-old does not have a coronavirus-related illness and walked into hospital unaided on Tuesday evening. Prince Philip is expected to remain in hospital for a few days of observation and rest, according to Buckingham Palace.
Business and economy
Facebook has blocked Australian users from accessing news content on the platform, in response to a proposed law which could make tech giants pay for news content on their sites. The move has caused much public alarm, targeting not only Australian news publishers, but also dozens of government, not-for-profit, and community pages.
Jaguar Land Rover has confirmed plans to axe around 2,000 jobs in a restructuring move designed to create a “more agile organisation” while keeping all three of its UK plants open. The decision comes after the car manufacturer announced its intention to turn Jaguar into an all-electric brand by 2025.
Another car maker, Ford, has announced that its entire passenger range in Europe will be all-electric by 2030, with its commercial models set to become 100% zero-emissions capable, all-electric, or plug-in hybrid by 2024. The company said it was investing at least $22bn (£15.8bn) globally in electrification to 2025.
Columns of note
In The Times, Iain Martin writes about the culture of toxic disagreement and incessant online communication for which we haven’t had time to develop a system of manners. He argues that there’s no use in trying to go back to the old world of steady, filtered flows of information. Instead, Martin seconds writer Iain Leslie in urging everyone to take personal responsibility and strive for constructive areas of agreement. (£)
Helen Brand argues in City AM that the UK government’s lockdown exit plan will need to provide clear signposts and barrier-free routes to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) recover. She urges ministers to focus on policies that support existing and new entrepreneurs, including business recovery, sustainable business measures, and export improvements.
What happened yesterday?
London stocks finished weaker on Wednesday, as investors digested an unexpected rise in UK inflation. The FTSE 100 ended the session down 0.56% at 6,710.90, while sterling was weaker against the dollar by 0.4% at $1.38 but firmer versus the euro by 0.14% at €1.15.
Across the pond, stocks on Wall Street dropped for a second consecutive session, with the technology-focused Nasdaq Composite closing down 0.6% and the S&P 500 coming just shy of closing flat.
In company news:
Hargreaves Lansdown finished 7.04% weaker after Peter Hargreaves sold £300m of shares, leaving him with ownership of less than 20% of the financial services company he co-founded 30 years ago.
British American Tobacco closed down 3.95% as the tobacco products manufacturer said full-year profits rose but the figure fell short of analysts’ expectations.
Rio Tinto was in the red by 0.3%, even after the metals and mining corporation delivered a record dividend to shareholders, as soaring iron ore prices last and demand from China drove full-year profits higher.
What’s happening today?
Smith & Nephew
Int. economic announcements
(13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(13:30) Import and Export Price Indices (US)
(13:30) Philadelphia Fed Index (US)
(13:30) Housing Starts (US)
(13:30) Building Permits (US)
(13:30) Continuing Claims (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
Breakdancing has become an official Olympic sport and will be added to the medal events programme at the 2024 Paris Olympics under the name ‘breaking’. (source: @8fact)
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Doing Politics Differently – The Report of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland
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