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Passport to Pimlico?

In his most demanding role yet, Boris is wrestling with “complicated ethical and practical issues”

Portcullis Sketch

And so to the bank holiday movie: Lockdowns Aren’t For Ever. Or is it Passport to Pimlico? Boris Johnson was very clear that he wanted us to be thinking about the former. It’s a tale in which a posh Brit saves the world while shagging a lot of women and trying to conceal his thinning hair. He leaves quite a few corpses behind him, but that’s a matter for the public inquiry, when it comes.

The prime minister was pretty chipper for his press conference. Things are going to plan. The vaccines keep coming, the roadmap keeps mapping, beer gardens are opening in a week. “I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint to my lips,” he joked.

We still haven’t worked out what the new media suite looks like. School prize-giving ceremony at a mid-range public school? Left-over set from an American drama about a British prime minister, played for contractual reasons by Ryan Reynolds?

The actual prime minister, the slightly less convincingly cast Johnson, had other reasons to be cheerful. The entire population of Gibraltar has been offered a vaccine! Mass testing, the programme that was going to let us all enjoy Christmas, is finally here. You can finally join your children in swabbing your own tonsils twice a week and then analysing the results. Johnson revealed he does this before going on each visit. It’s pretty horrible, to be honest, making you want to vomit and cry at the same time, a familiar sensation to anyone who has addressed Tory MPs at the 1922 Committee.

The current concern of angry Conservative backbenchers is vaccine passports. As ever, they both oppose lockdown and the means of lifting it – pro having cake and pro eating it, as Johnson might put it.

his alibis or his captors – Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty

But that Boris is long gone. The figure who stood before us on Monday evening was a shadow of his former self, both physically – he definitely looked thinner – and rhetorically. He tried to insist that we should refer to vaccine passports as “Covid Status Certification”. Good luck with that one.

Again and again he was asked if people would have to present evidence of vaccination or a negative test before they entered shops, bars or nightclubs. Again and again he didn’t quite answer. “There’s absolutely no question” of needing them to go into beer gardens, he said. As for whether they’ll be needed if you want to drink inside, “we are not planning” that, he told us, which is a long way short of a guarantee.

The thing is, the prime minister explained, “there are complicated ethical and practical issues” around vaccine passports. And is there anyone better equipped to wrestle with matters ethical and practical than Boris Johnson? Couldn’t London Zoo lend the nation a chimpanzee and a dart board to have a crack at it? Johnson wrestling with complicated ethical and practical issues inspires about the same level of confidence that Homer Simpson does conducting brain surgery.

Would he at least promise a vote to Parliament? “You’re taking too many fences at once,” he complained. This is at least living his values. Johnson, as we have seen throughout this crisis, is very much a man to put off until tomorrow what he should have done last month. “Obviously if there’s something to put to Parliament, we will be doing that.” This was, in a very real sense, the least he could promise.

The problem he’s dealing with was clear from the men who act – depending on your point of view – as his alibis or his captors, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty. Their deal, it seems clear, is that they won’t contradict him in public so long as he doesn’t rule out what they think we’ll need. And, as they both told us repeatedly, the virus is here to stay. This means, even with a vaccine, so are restrictions.

Will children need vaccine passports? We were rushing our fences again. It was time for Johnson to obfuscate. Well, as the song goes, nobody does it better.

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