by UnHerd
Tuesday, 20
July 2021

Lord Sumption changes his mind on vaccine passports

The former Supreme Court Justice has come out firmly against the proposal
by UnHerd
Lord Sumption interviewed by UnHerd in March 2021

In his interview with UnHerd back in March of this year, former Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption upset many of his libertarian fans by coming out in favour of vaccine passports.

I do not have strong views about vaccine passports. They are an invasion of privacy, but the information in question is on government computers anyway, so the privacy concerns can be overstated.

I do not like a world in which you have to produce a document in order to justify partaking in the ordinary activities of human existence any more than the next person. The trouble is that the alternative is even worse. I would prefer a system which was entirely voluntary and which trusted people, but given that I don’t think that is a politically feasible option, I think that we have got to choose the least bad thing. And to my mind a vaccine passport is a lot less bad than simply indiscriminately depriving everybody of what makes life worth living.

I think it’s inevitable, whatever government does, that private enterprises — for example theatre managers — will require some evidence of vaccination, because otherwise, people who are still afraid of being infected simply won’t come. I think it’s very unfortunate that that is how humanity behaves, but we’re not in a world where we can have the best solution. We’re in a world where we have to choose, because of the fears of so many people, between more or less bad options.

- Lord Sumption, UnHerd interview, March 2021

In his interview with Amol Rajan on the Today programme this morning, Lord Sumption seemed to suggest that he has now changed his mind. He was firmly opposed to the proposal to require vaccine passports for people attending nightclubs:

I don’t think vaccine passports imposed by the state are a good idea now. Earlier this idea when fewer people had been vaccinated, I thought there was something to be said in allowing those who had been to prove the fact and return to normal life. But at the moment, with 70% having had both jabs, including all vulnerable groups, I think it is completely unnecessary.

The latest statement on nightclubs is a threat that unless they insist on vaccine passports we will force them to do so. The age group affected by nightclubs has a negligible chance of getting seriously ill or dying – if they wish to take the risk then why should they not be allowed to do so? The groups it might affect have all been offered two jabs – they are highly effective against hospitalisations or deaths.

Getting vaccinated is a choice that one has, I don’t think this should be something we should be compelled to do.

- Lord Sumption, Today Programme, July 2021

UnHerd has invited the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, to an interview to discuss what prompted his change of heart in the other direction — and whether there’s any chance of another U-turn before the policy would actually come online. Watch this space.

Update: Lord Sumption has been in touch to explain his rationale in more detail:

In March, with a much smaller proportion of the population vaccinated and the government imposing a full lockdown, I thought that vaccine passports were a lesser evil. At least some people would be able to return to normal life.

Today, with c70% double vaccinated and 90% with antibodies, we are in a different position. Even on the logic of the control-freaks in charge, the case for vaccine passports is weak. The risk of transmitting infection remains but hospitalisations are low and deaths negligible. The problem is that the metric that ministers are using is infections, which don’t matter unless they lead to hospitalisation or death.

I would have no issue with venue operators voluntarily calling for proof of vaccination in order to attract more of the fearful, although there is little sign of that (theatres are reported to be selling to capacity). But none of that justifies the state in muscling in with legislation or crude threats.

- Lord Sumption in UnHerd, 20th July 2021

Join the discussion

  • It’s worth pointing out all the other stuff that has changed since Lord Sumption made his first argument in favour of vaccine passports, which were the best option at the time out of a range of unpalatable options.

    What has changed since that time other than the vastly increased number of vaccinated people and the consequently vastly lower threat that the virus represents, is the now-obvious fact that large parts of the public sector, untrammelled by anything as inconvenient as the democratically elected government, have decided that the powers granted to themselves are not going to be handed back. It is against this dangerous development that Lord Sumption’s welcome reversion to libertarian principles must be judged.

  • Even the idea of “attracting more of the fearful” is a bit odd, considering that in order to do so a whole bunch of the not-fearful would be excluded. We do seem to be doing a lot of pandering to the fearful.

  • “I might be more inclined to go along with it.”

    Your inclinations are not an issue. If the gov stasi wanted you to have choice in this they would have asked you. You will do as told.

    “so in what way are things going to get better by proving you vaccinated status?”

    You think all this insane covid response it to make things better? It is to make things worse. That is how the economy may be wrecked so all must have dependence on gov money (Coming soon, CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency, when you will have all your money held, issued, and tracked by the Central Bank – and you will do as told, as you have no choice)) This plus the revoking of rights and freedoms is the Brave New World the covid response is done to create, it has nothing to do with health, or so it would seem, from how insane and anti-freedom, and distructive to the economy, education, jobs, freedon, mental and physical health it is.

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