“Vaccine passports” have been in the news lately, as a result of the British government’s plans to introduce a nationwide ID system that will help ease the country out of lockdown more rapidly...

2/x The libertarian wing of the Tory party has been particularly strident in opposing these plans.

"If people don't want to take a vaccine," insisted @SteveBakerHW, the govy should "not turn a blind eye to any kind of discrimination against them."
3/x On one level I can sympathize with @SteveBakerHW's views, as the idea of a society permeated with ID checkpoints does feel rather Orwellian.

But here I want to offer some global historical context that might reshape the way we think about “vaccine passports”.
4/x The first thing to say is that @SteveBakerHW might not need to worry about his civil liberties being curtailed, given his party’s so-far farcical track record in attempting to set up civil surveillance apparatuses.
5/x @BorisJohnson’s government has a history of over-promising and under-delivering on its covid response capabilities.

Last summer Johnson promised that a “world-beating” track-and trace system based on smartphone tracking technology would be up and running within months.
6/x The initial software proved unable to beat even the Isle of Wight, and the government’s nationwide track and trace system still "has had no clear impact on fighting the pandemic".

7/x The second point is that the term “vaccine passport” is technically inaccurate. HMG plans to issue ID docs that will let business-owners control who can enter their premises, and hopes that these will eventually be used to control entrants at national borders as well.
8/x But passports are, by and large speaking, documents used to control who *leaves* space, not who enters it. Historically they were issued by rulers to permit their subjects to leave their place of residence, to travel either within their territory or to leave it altogether.
9/x A twist on this was the guarantees of safe passage issued to merchants who wished to travel along commercial thoroughfares or sea. These often functioned as a source of revenue for states such as the Knights of St. John on Malta or the Malay Sultanates that...
10/x ...controlled the straits of Malacca.

But here too the permits were typically issued to merchants who wished to leave port, not enter it.
11/x What HMG is proposing is more like a system of vaccine visas, that would allow private property owners to selectively permit customers to *enter* their premises. The parallel is even more obvious at the national level.
12/x Framed in this way, vaccine visas immediately become a less controversial prospect. The right to *leave* territory is a key tenet of liberal thinking dating back to the American Rev, now enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. See @GregGrandin, The End of the Myth.
13/x But only the most radical advocates of free migration would insist that the right to enter territory is also inviolate. Rightwing libertarian thinkers in particular (like @SteveBakerHW) have been keen to draw a distinction between the right to exit and the right to enter.
14/x For many Brexiteers the case to leave the EU was dual-pronged: a chance to craft an imagined libertarian utopia free of European bureaucratic red tape, but also a chance to “take back control” of the UK’s territorial borders: i.e. to reclaim the right to issue visas.
15/x So why the confusion between passports and visas? I think this in part stems from a blindness born of systemic privilege, Many libertarians fiercely defend the rights of property owners. The key difference between libertarians and anarchists is that libertarians want a...
16/x ...strong state to defend those rights. But many libertarians have never stopped to imagine that these rights to property might actually be wielded against them. Hence the bizarre insistence on the right of freeborn Englishmen to frequent the pub.

17/x This presumes first that the Englishman has money in his pocket to spend and - more importantly in this case - that the publican will welcome his custom. Hence the cognitive dissonance when the latter premise is thrown into doubt...
18/x The right for the customer to enter the pub apparently trumps the right of the publican to decide who enters. (h/t to @IanFPollock for making this great point)
19/x The same blindness applies at the international level.

(The manner in which many people extrapolate from private property rights to imagine territorial sovereignty is fascinating in its own right, but let’s park that for another time.)
20/x I’ll bet that @SteveBakerHW has never applied for residency in a foreign country - or even travelled to a country that does not operate a visa waiver scheme with the UK. If he had, he'd know that embassies often require vaccination certificates as part of visa applications.
21/x Perhaps I’m wrong on this point, but if so I will double down and bet that @SteveBakerHW has never travelled to a country where the public health infrastructure has collapsed. People who've travelled to a country such as Malawi, where epidemic diseases such as cholera or...
22/x ...yellow fever are rampant, will often be asked to show a vaccination certificate when they enter a third country, or even their home country. The demands of public health usually trump the right to free movement, and for better or worse it has been ever thus.
23/x Historically, Britain has been on the other end of this equation. It was an eager participant in the cordon sanitaire, an agreement btw European states to maintain a network of lazaretto (quarantine stations) to defend the "healthy" West against the "diseased" East.
24/x (For a fantastic recent study of this see here)


And of course Edward Said on Orientalism, etc.
25/x But my,, how the tables have turned. Britain is now, in terms of public hygiene at least, regarded as a failed state. Even other Western countries look askance at Britain, and states in East Asia with relatively robust public hygiene infrastructures are even more aghast.
26/x I write this from Japan, where the media reports with horror at “the British variant” slowly spreading throughout the country. Fairly or unfairly, our country is regarded by many foreigner as a petri dish for a viciously contagious disease...
...in large part because right-wing libertarians like @SteveBakerHW lobbied (and continue to lobby) against stricter lockdown measures.

What is the takeaway from all this? I suppose it is a simple one...
27/27 Get off your fucking high horse @SteveBakerHW. Your right to enter other people’s space is, though you may not realize it, a product of your own historical privilege. And right now, in part to your own actions, it is a right that you (we) no longer enjoy.

End 🧵

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