May slams ‘incomprehensible’ travel restrictions on UK despite vaccine success

The former prime minister hit out at the regulations on international travel and called on the Government to be ‘upfront’ about the future.

Theresa May
Theresa May

Theresa May savaged Boris Johnson’s travel restrictions as she insisted it is “incomprehensible” that freedoms are being withheld from Britons despite the huge number of vaccinations.

The former prime minister called on the Government to be “upfront” with the public about what the future will look like, including that “we will not eradicate” Covid-19 from the UK.

Mrs May said deaths from Covid will also continue in future and highlighted the thousands of flu deaths which occur in the country each year.

People living in the UK will also “never be able to travel abroad ever again” if ministers argue international travel cannot be reopened until there are no new variants of the virus elsewhere in the world, Mrs May added.

People arriving in the UK from a green tier country are not required to self-isolate, while amber arrivals – including those from France, Spain and Italy – must quarantine at home for 10 days.

Travel is banned to red list countries.

Mrs May, speaking during a general debate on the aviation, travel and tourism industries, said the Government has failed to act on its promise from June 2020 to get internationally-agreed standard health measures in place.

The Conservative MP said: “One year on, we are no further forward – indeed, what we have is a devastated industry, jobs lost and global Britain shut for business. More than not being any further forward, we’ve gone backwards.

“We now have over 50% of the adult population vaccinated – a wonderful programme – yet we’re more restricted on travel than we were last year.

“In 2020, I went to Switzerland in August, South Korea in September, there was no vaccine and travel was possible – this year there is a vaccine, travel is not possible. I really don’t understand the stance the Government is taking.”

Mrs May raised questions over the “mixed” messaging over travel to countries on the amber list, adding the system is “chaotic”.

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Junior transport minister Robert Courts warned against opening up travel too quickly (Chris Radburn/PA)

She also told the House of Commons: “I think there are some facts the Government needs to be upfront with the British people about and ministers need to think a bit more of when making these decisions.

“First, we will not eradicate Covid-19 from the UK. There will not be a time when we can say that there will never be another case of Covid-19 in this country.

“Secondly, variants will keep on coming. There will be new variants every year. If the Government’s position is that we cannot open up travel until there are no new variants elsewhere in the world then we will never be able to travel abroad ever again.

“And the third fact that the Government needs to state much more clearly is that sadly people will die from Covid here in the UK in the future, as 10,000 to 20,000 people do every year from flu.”

Mrs May warned the Government “needs to decide whether it wants an airline industry and aviation sector” in the UK, adding: “It is incomprehensible that one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world is one that is most reluctant to give its citizens the freedoms those vaccinations should support.”

Opening the debate, transport minister Robert Courts spoke about how reviews are conducted every three weeks on the safety of travel destinations and highlighted efforts to reduce the cost of Covid-19 tests.

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Sir Graham Brady asked why the UK does not accept the validity of vaccines for international travel (Rick Findler/PA)

He said: “The ability to prove your vaccination status for outbound travel using the NHS app and an inclusive letter service means that several countries now accept vaccinated visitors from the UK with reduced or removed testing and health measures.”

At this point, Mrs May put her head in her hands as MPs asked about inbound visitors.

Conservative Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, asked: “Why doesn’t the United Kingdom recognise the validity of those vaccines for international travel?”

Mr Courts replied: “We are considering what role vaccination may be able to play in facilitating international travel.”

In his concluding remarks, Mr Courts said he wants to welcome people back to the UK and for Britons to explore the world before adding: “We cannot and we will not rush this, and we cannot and will not undermine our hard won progress.

“If we move too quickly, recklessly even, we could throw away our progress and take us all – including the travel, tourism and aviation industries back to square one.”

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