Starmer: PM must regain control of borders to protect Covid-19 unlocking

·3-min read

Boris Johnson was accused of losing control of the UK’s borders and being unaware of the scale of the Covid-19 risk posed by travellers.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeatedly questioned why travel restrictions have been eased for 170 countries or territories, such as France and Spain, after they were moved to the amber travel list by the Government.

Sir Keir insisted “absolute clarity” is needed over whether or not people should travel to amber list countries before he highlighted mixed messages given by ministers on Tuesday.

Speaking in the Commons, the Prime Minister recognised new Covid-19 variants entering the UK are a risk to the June 21 unlocking date.

Mr Johnson added: “We’ve looked at the data again this morning and I can tell the House we have increasing confidence that vaccines are effective against all variants, including the Indian variant.”

He later said the UK has “one of the strongest border regimes anywhere in the world”, with 43 countries still on the red list and requiring a hotel quarantine stay on arrival in England.

The Prime Minister told MPs: “If you travel to an amber list country for any emergency, any extreme reason that you have to, when you come back, you not only have to pay for all the tests but you have to self-isolate for 10 days – we will invigilate, we are invigilating it, and people who fail to obey the quarantine can face fines of up to £10,000.”

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Johnson added: “We are trying to move away from endlessly legislating for everything and to rely on guidance and asking people to do the right thing.

“It is very, very clear – you should not be going to an amber list country except for some extreme circumstance, such as the serious illness of a family member.

“You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday.”

Sir Keir pressed the Prime Minister to explain how many people are travelling to the UK from amber list countries each day.

He said: “Since the Government loosened travel restrictions, 150 flights a day are going to amber list countries and travel agents are reporting surges in holiday bookings to those countries.”

Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Johnson replied: “What I can tell the House is that there has been a 95% reduction in travel of any kind too and from this country and that is exactly what you would expect in the circumstances of this pandemic.

“There are 43 countries on the red list and if you come back from one of those countries you have to go immediately into hotel quarantine.

“And the reason that we are able to move forward in the way that we have is because, as I have told the House repeatedly, we are continuing with the fastest vaccination rollout I think just about anywhere in Europe.”

Coronavirus cases and deaths graphic
(PA Graphics)

Sir Keir argued the Government does not think people should travel to amber list countries but “has made it easier to do so”.

He added: “The messaging is confused and contradictory, and as a result, Prime Minister, this week, many people are now travelling to amber list countries, but the Government can’t say how many or when.

“We are an island nation, we have the power to stop this. Why doesn’t the Prime Minister drop this hopeless system, get control of our borders and introduce a proper system that can protect against the threat of future variants of the virus?”

Mr Johnson replied: “Actually, I think what would be helpful – I’ve set out the position about amber list countries I think very clearly at least twice – wouldn’t it be great to hear (Sir Keir) backing it up for a change, using what authority he possesses to convey the message to the rest of the country?”

The Prime Minister added that Labour’s position on borders is “hopelessly confused”.

But Sir Keir countered “it is ridiculous” that the Government has decided to “weaken” border controls, as the new Indian variant is spreading.