The chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers has urged the government’s Global Travel Taskforce to avoid “an excess of caution”.
The taskforce is due to report on April 12 about plans to open up non-essential international travel, which could start from May 17 at the earliest, and the prime minister this week confirmed the initial framework would be published on April 5.
Sir Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West, said in a comment article: “The UK must not squander its vaccine success through an excess of caution on air travel.”
Highlighting the fact that more than half of UK adults have now received at least one jab against Covid-19, he said: “As the country begins the irreversible process of rolling back its Covid-19 restrictions, this enviable position affords the UK with opportunities to lead the world and open up international travel, reconnecting businesses, communities and families as we approach the summer.
“The anticipated re-opening of the skies on May 17 is still nearly 10 weeks away, a lifetime in the age of Covid.
“That the UK could consider throwing away a major advantage of the world-leading vaccine rollout through an excess of caution on air travel, particularly prompted by a theoretical risk from imported variants, is almost unthinkable.
“It has to be data, not dogma, that wins through. Keeping our borders closed and our skies shut while the domestic economy fully opens up would be a mistake.”
He said air travel plays a “critical but underplayed wider role” in the economy, adding: “Being shut off from the US alone, for example, costs the UK economy over £30 million a day, and hundreds of thousands of retail and tourism jobs in our cities are in peril if we are not able to bring visitors to our shores once again this summer.”
He called for a “proportionate system of red, amber and green countries” with arrivals from some countries banned and the expanded use of rapid testing for travellers from elsewhere.
“There will be those who suggest that shutting down travel for the summer is a price worth paying, to avoid any risk of importing Covid-19 into the UK,” he added, warning that widespread testing and quarantine requirements could add costs and time penalties that make travel “practically impossible”.
“Undoubtedly, any precaution will be well intentioned, but we owe it to the hundreds of thousands whose livelihoods depend on aviation, and the many more who harbour a desperate desire to return to something like normality, to take a genuinely balanced approach to risk,” he said.
“The focus for the next few weeks must be on the taskforce delivering a framework for travel that is risk-based, workable and durable. And it should be underpinned by the well-founded assumption that as the vaccine rollout accelerates both here and abroad, a phased easing of restrictions is as achievable as it is necessary.”
Henry Smith, the Tory chair of the all-party Future of Aviation Group, said: “Our aviation, travel and tourism industries has been amongst the hardest hit by Covid-19 and they desperately need a roadmap out of the restrictions as well as clear criteria on how and when they can restart.
“The prime minister’s inclusion of international travel in his roadmap out of lockdown brought hope to these embattled industries and extreme measures [like the travel ban] only sow confusion and risk further damaging an industry already on its knees.
“It is essential that the government and global travel taskforce bring forward a risk-based framework that allows international travel to resume safely soon.
“We cannot afford another false dawn which risks the very future of our world class aviation sector.”
Smith warned that any “delay and uncertainty” over opening up would mean “a lost summer of aviation sector recovery – that’s why we need to actively lobby for the global travel taskforce to report as planned with a clear opening-up plan from April 12”.
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