Universities to join drive to encourage young people to get jabbed
The climbdown comes just five days after Downing Street floated the idea of demanding proof of vaccination or negative test to allow access to lecture rooms and halls of residence when autumn term begins in September.
The proposal sparked an angry backlash among Conservative MPs, med så mange som 50 believed to be considering rebelling against legislation on mandatory certification for venues like nightclubs and conference centres – and some threatening to boycott the party’s annual conference in Manchester if they are forced to show Covid passes.
Government sources today said there are now “no plans” for mandatory passes for students, and that universities will instead be asked to encourage them to get their jabs.
Boris Johnson is thought to have suggested the plan himself, after reportedly “raging” in a Zoom meeting with ministers over the low take-up rates of vaccines among young people.
But the scheme met pushback from ministers who warned the government could face legal challenge if it was seen to attempt to deny young people access to education after universities have entered a contractual obligation to provide it.
MPs warned the idea was potentially discriminatory, and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for a recall of parliament to debate what he said was the introduction of ID cards by stealth.
The rapid backtrack from the proposal will fuel suspicions that it was always intended as part of a series of efforts to nudge young people into taking up the jab, rather than a practical policy plan.
It is understood that pop-up rapid testing centres are to be installed on campuses before term begins this September, and students may be encouraged to take tests twice weekly.
While plans were never formally launched, No10 said on Monday that the government was “looking at the scope for vaccine certification” in universities and education minister Vicky Ford said ministers wanted to “look at every practicality to make sure that we can get students back safely and make sure that we can continue to prioritise education”.
But the deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tories, Steve Baker, said it was an “outrageous proposal” that would risk “splitting the Tory Party irretrievably”.
Speaking after it emerged the idea was being dumped, Sir Ed Davey told Times Radio it was another instance of “shambolic” messaging by the Johnson administration.
“One day they’re briefing there will be restrictions on students, the next day they’re briefing there won’t be,” said Sir Ed.
“I think people overall, with the way the government is managing this, are just left confused. And that’s one of the things I’m so shocked at.
“One would have thought the government would have learned by now that when you’re dealing with a public health crisis, the most important thing is to get your messaging clear.
“It’s shambolic. They’re failing our nation in a really serious way. I’m surprised people aren’t more angry about how Boris Johnson is failing.”