The pub vaccine story was a “slip of the tongue” from Boris Johnson, which took on a life of its own, UKHospitality’s Tony Sophoclides has suggested.

He told MCA’s The Conversation the prime minster clearly made the comments quite casually, but now the “genie was out of the bottle”.

Last week the prime minister told MPs that visitors to pubs might have to prove they had been vaccinated to gain admission.

Sophoclides, strategy affairs director at UKHospitality, said: “It’s an example of how one slip of the tongue then blows up into a story that starts to take on a life of itself.”

He said the trade association and the wider industry must call the government to account. Proof of vaccines could not be introduced until everyone had been inoculated.

“We have this absurd situation where your staff can work in a venue but not come in in any other capacity,” he said. “This is untested but I would be surprised if it doesn’t break some equality laws. It does seem particularly unworkable and that’s just on a technical level.

“When you look at those people who can’t have vaccines, those who simply won’t, there’s a civil rights or liberties issue that comes into play there.”

Phil Thorley, operations director at Thorley Taverns, said Johnson’s remark was “off the cuff” and had gathered momentum “unbelievably so”.

Thorley said: “We’ve only got half the adult population who’s been vaccinated.” However, he thought a proportion of the population would think it was a good idea. “Leaving it to landlords’ discretion would be totally passing the buck.

“We can obviously let in who we like, which is part of the licensing law, but until everyone’s vaccinated you couldn’t have a passport for only those who have been vaccinated because it would preclude half the adult population.”

The comments were made before a poll by Ipsos Mori found 62% of British people said they would be happy with a vaccine passport to get into a pub or restaurant.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said such a policy would be against the “British instinct”.

Starmer added: “I think that this idea that we sort of outsource this to individual landlords is just wrong in principle.”