Labour set to blame Covid unlocking delay on Johnson’s border “negligence”

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds is set to blame the four-week delay to the next step of the Covid unlocking plan – announced at a press conference by Boris Johnson today – on the Prime Minister’s border “negligence”.

In a speech on Tuesday titled “Losing Control: A Timeline of Conservative Covid Border Failure”, the Shadow Home Secretary will attack Johnson while setting out Labour’s view of the UK’s border policy during Covid.

Calling the Prime Minister “negligent” and referring to the Delta variant as “the Johnson variant”, the Labour frontbencher plans to argue that Johnson’s “refusal to take tough decisions has left Britain facing weeks more under restrictions”.

“The delay is happening because a new variant first identified overseas was allowed to take hold in this country. There is one reason and one reason only that this happened: lax border measures by Conservative ministers.

“They have allowed the Delta variant, first identified in India to take hold here. Let’s call it what it is. Let’s put the blame where it should lie. In this country – it’s the Johnson variant,” Thomas-Symonds will declare.

The senior shadow cabinet member will say that Johnson’s government spends time “posturing and posing over being tough at the borders” but “when it was a matter of keeping our country safe and the variants out, they failed”.

Thomas-Symonds will add: “We are an island country. Like New Zealand and Australia, our border protections should have been one of our natural strengths throughout this pandemic. Instead, it has been one of our greatest weaknesses.”

Johnson confirmed at a coronavirus press conference on Monday that remaining restrictions would not lift on June 21st but on July 19th instead, with the latter being a “terminus date” rather than a ‘no earlier than’ date.

The Prime Minister explained that cases are currently growing “by about 64% per week” and doubling per week in the worst affected areas. “I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer,” he said, though weddings are exempt from the delay.

“I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks,” Johnson said. “It’s unmistakably clear that the vaccines are working. But now is the time to ease off the accelerator.” He added that the delay would “save many more thousands of lives”.

Chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty noted that the majority of those being hospitalised are under 65. He said the case rates will be higher in four weeks’ time, but the unlocking delay would reduce the risk of a very high peak.

In his speech on Tuesday, Thomas-Symonds will say: “Pakistan and Bangladesh were added on 9 April. Yet the Prime Minister waited 14 days to add India. Those 14 days have resulted in delays to our freedoms, untold damage to our economy and risks to thousands of jobs.”

He will add that it was “unbelievably reckless” for Johnson to “put having his photograph taken with Prime Minister Modi ahead of protecting the British people”, referring to the Prime Minister’s initial plan to visit India himself.

YouGov polling released on Monday found that 71% of adults living in England support the move to delay the lifting of coronavirus restrictions by four weeks until July 19th, while just 24% oppose the postponement.

Public Health England also revealed the positive news that, for the Delta variant of Covid-19, the Pfizer vaccine is 96% effective and the Oxford-AstraZeneca is 92% effective against hospitalisation after two doses.

Labour will force a vote on the borders issue in its opposition day motion on Tuesday afternoon. The party is calling for the ‘amber’ travel list to be scrapped and for the long-promised aviation sector support package to be delivered.

Below is the full text of Labour’s opposition day motion.

Keir Starmer
Angela Rayner
Nick Thomas-Symonds
Jim McMahon
Thangam Debbonaire
Sir Alan Campbell

That this House believes that there must be a clear, simply understood and proper hotel quarantine scheme in operation at the UK border to minimise the risk of introduction of new variants into the UK; calls on the Government to immediately scrap the Amber List category of the Government’s Traffic Light System for travel and place all of those countries currently on the Amber List onto the Red List, whilst maintaining a tightly managed Green List, so as not to risk undermining the UK’s successful NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme; and further calls on the Government to work with international partners to introduce an international vaccine passport allowing for the safe resumption of travel, to publish all data on international travel arrivals, and to provide details of the decision-making process on the ‘Traffic Light System’; and reiterates the need for a sector-specific support deal for aviation.

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