Downing Street has rejected claims from Dominic Cummings that the UK’s Covid border policy is “a joke” – despite fresh confusion over travel to so-called amber list countries.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson hit back after Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser used a series of tweets to lambast government handling of the pandemic.
Ahead of a potentially explosive evidence session before MPs next week, Cummings said the country’s contingency plans were “part disaster, part non-existent”.
When asked about Cummings’ claim that the UK had a “joke borders policy”, the spokesperson replied: “I would reject that. We have some of the strongest border measures in the world.”
The former adviser also revealed on Twitter that he alone had a “crucial historical document” on the pandemic, and said he would pass it to the Commons science and tech committee.
Asked about the claim, the PM’s spokesman said: “I’m not going to speculate on what information individuals may have or how they might choose to make that public.”
Cummings’ broadside follows criticism that Johnson failed to stop the import of the Indian variant of the virus by waiting too long to ban arrivals from India.
His criticism of the border policy also came amid wider anger from Tory MPs that Britons are being told not to travel on holiday to amber list countries, even though it is no longer illegal to do so.
Amber list states – includes France, Spain and most of Europe – require testing on return and 10 day quarantine at home, but health secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday that no one from the UK should travel there.
Under the new traffic light system, people can travel from green list states like Portugal without having to isolate on return. Those travelling from red list countries have to pay for quarantine in specific hotels.
No.10 moved quickly to dismiss claims from Cabinet minister George Eustice that people could travel to amber list countries to meet family and friends.
And Johnson himself said: “It is not somewhere you should be going on holiday, let me be very clear about that.”
“If people do go to an amber list country – if they absolutely have to for some pressing family or urgent business reason – then please bear in mind that you will have to self isolate, you will have to take tests and do a passenger locator form and all the rest of it.
“You’ll also have to self isolate for 10 days when you get back and that period of self-isolation, that period of quarantine, will be enforced with fines of up to £10,000.”
Some 150 flights a day are flying to amber list countries, and there are claims that at airports like Heathrow they are not being separated from passengers arriving from red list countries.
Eustice told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “We don’t want to stop travel altogether and the reason... that we have the amber list is there will be reasons why people feel they need to travel either to visit family or indeed to visit friends.
“They can travel to those countries but they then have to observe quarantine when they return and have two tests after returning. So people can travel to those areas, yes, but they will then have to subject themselves to the quarantine requirements on return.”
Asked if Eustice was speaking for the government, the PM’s spokesman said: “There are some limited reasons why it might be acceptable to travel, for work purposes, protecting essential services, or for compassionate reasons such as a funeral or care of a family member.
“But otherwise people should not be traveling to these countries that is our position.”
Put to him that it was legal to travel to amber list countries – and the £5,000 fine for overseas travel had been dropped – the spokesman said: “We are at a different stage of this epidemic, and we are moving to a situation where the public are able to take personal responsibility for their actions and that’s what we’re seeing happening, by and large.”
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The Conservatives’ border policies have unravelled into dangerous chaos within a matter of hours since international travel was opened up.
“There is a lack of strategy, which has meant the U.K. Government, and their own Ministers, are giving out conflicting and confused advice about whether people are allowed to travel, especially between ‘amber list’ countries.
“Labour has been clear that there should be a pause on international travel, to guard against further importing of dangerous strains, setting back hopes for ending restrictions.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.