Labour: Fight against Covid undermined by Tory “inability to secure our borders”

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour has argued that the efforts of the British people in the pandemic are being undermined by the government’s “inability to secure our borders against Covid” and called for a “comprehensive hotel quarantine system”.

Under proposals set out by Nick Thomas-Symonds, the new hotel quarantine system would apply to travellers arriving from all countries to the UK, rather than only those coming from a country on a government list.

It has been estimated that around 15,000 travellers are currently arriving in the UK every day. Government ministers are “actively now working on” the quarantine hotel plans, the Prime Minister has confirmed.

Responding to an urgent question tabled by Labour this afternoon, Home Secretary Priti Patel discussed the plans to introduce new Covid requirements for travellers and defended the government’s record.

She insisted that since January last year “the government has had a comprehensive strategy for public health measures at the border” but told MPs that protecting the vaccine roll-out across the country has necessitated “stricter controls”.

Thomas-Symonds argued: “The efforts of the British people and the hopes of the vaccine are being undermined by the government’s inability to secure our borders against Covid. Conservative incompetence is putting our country at risk.

“Labour is calling for a comprehensive hotel quarantining system with protections to secure us against new strains. It cannot be restricted to only a handful of countries, leaving gaping holes in our defences against different strains.”

The Shadow Home Secretary described the quarantine plans briefed to the press as “half-baked”, called for a sector support package for aviation and argued the government’s handling of UK borders in the crisis has been “chaotic”.

“There hasn’t been a comprehensive strategy as the Home Secretary suggested,” Thomas-Symonds told MPs in parliament this afternoon. “Indeed from January last year to the 23rd March, only 273 people were formally quarantined.

“I wrote to the Home Secretary in April and asked her to learn the lessons of that. But still by May the UK was an international outlier with virtually no travel controls.

“When formal quarantine was introduced in June, the policy was so badly handled it was ineffective. It isn’t being properly enforced… Even the introduction of mandatory testing was delayed because the government couldn’t get the structures in place.”

Labour highlighted earlier this month that, according to government figures, just three in every 100 people travelling to the UK from another country are being checked to make sure that they are complying with quarantine measures.

The Shadow Home Secretary urged Patel to provide clarity today on the new border plans and asked her to confirm whether the measures will apply to all countries, or be limited to those that are high risk, and when they will be introduced.

“The honourable gentleman has referred to newspaper reports and speculation,” the Home Secretary told the Commons in response. “It would be wrong of me to speculate about any measures that are not in place right now.”

Reports emerged on Monday evening that the Prime Minister is set to approve plans for new quarantine rules for travellers in airport hotels today. Government sources have described the plans as an “effective closure of our borders”.

Those coming to the country are expected to pay upwards of £1,000 per traveller for ten days in a hotel. Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News this afternoon that the government will make an announcement on the plans later today.

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