Theresa May launches blistering attack on UK’s ‘chaotic’ travel restrictions

Former prime minister says vaccine success means borders should reopen

epa09254980 Travellers at Heathrow airport in London, Britain, 08 June 2021. Extra flights to Britain have been departing Portugal as holidaymakers scrambled to leave on the last day before the country moved to the amber travel list. Many travellers missed the deadline and will have to quarantine for up to ten days.  EPA/ANDY RAIN

Former UK prime minister Theresa May attacked the government and described its travel restrictions as "incomprehensible" for one of the world's most vaccinated countries.

Coinciding with the G7 summit, Mrs May said the border policy gave the impression Britain was “shut for business”, and that rules should be relaxed to avoid “falling behind” the EU.

She urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to be upfront with people that Covid deaths would continue and said “we will never be able to travel abroad again” if ministers continued to fear new variants.

The former prime minister's warning came as Heathrow Airport figures showed passenger numbers were 90 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

British Airways on Thursday said it had put thousands of staff back on furlough because of the delayed resumption of travel, while Airlines UK said carriers would not survive if they continued to take on debt.

Britain's traffic light system for travel was altered last week when ministers cut Portugal from the green list.

The Mediterranean country was the only quarantine-free European destination for holidaymakers.

Mrs May said the government “needs to decide whether it wants an airline industry and aviation sector”.

"We now have more than 50 per cent of the adult population vaccinated – a wonderful programme – yet we're more restricted on travel than we were last year," she told the House of Commons.

“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.”

She said it was still permissible to travel to amber list countries, as long as those returning to the UK quarantine at home.

In this handout photo provided by UK Parliament, Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons, London, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament via AP)

“But government ministers tell people that they mustn’t travel – the messaging is mixed and the system chaotic,” she said.

“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 freedom those vaccinations should support.”

Ministers say the threat of imported strains of Covid-19 could undermine the country’s vaccination programme. But Mrs May said “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,” she said.

“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 … 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.”

Heathrow Airport boss John Holland-Kaye urged G7 leaders to turn their attention to international travel.

“With the G7 starting today, ministers have a chance to kick-start the green global recovery by agreeing how to resume international travel safely and setting a mandate for sustainable aviation fuels that will decarbonise aviation,” he said.

“This is the time for them to show global leadership.”

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