There is “every chance” of an aviation recovery this year and government’s new travel taskforce will give people “time to make plans for the summer”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted yesterday.
Following the announcement of a ‘roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions in England’ yesterday, Johnson told MPs he hopes the travel sector “will be able to open for the summer”.
The Prime Minister unveiled a four-step roadmap beginning with the reopening of schools on March 8, with subsequent steps at least five weeks apart.
He also announced a review of international travel, with a successor to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce to report by April 12 “so that people can plan for the summer”.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May told Johnson a report on April 12 “will not allow people to plan”. She argued “the industry needs three months’ preparation” and asked Johnson “to look again at the timetable for reopening air travel.”
But Johnson told her: “A deadline of April 12 will give people time to make their plans for the summer. If things go well, there is every chance of an aviation recovery later this year.”
Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee, sought “more detail on the taskforce”, asking: “Will it set out the requirements regarding testing, vaccination certificates, social distancing and measures towards an end to quarantine?”
Johnson said: “The travel taskforce will look at all those things – quarantine, destinations and so on.”
But he noted: “One consideration is that we need to make sure there are countries willing to accept British tourists in the way we would like. Some of them have said they will, but they are currently not very numerous.”
Stronger quarantine demands rejected
The Prime Minister rejected demands for tougher restrictions on travel.
Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party in the Commons, demanded the government follow the Scottish government by imposing blanket hotel quarantine requirements.
He argued: “People across the UK are demanding stronger measures. YouGov polling last week showed only 18% support the UK government’s rules on quarantine, while 72% prefer the Scottish government’s approach.”
However, Johnson told him: “We have among the toughest quarantine measures anywhere in the world, including mandatory incarceration in hotels if people return from one of 33 ‘red list’ countries.”
The Prime Minister promised: “We will continue to impose very tough controls on people coming into this country.”
Questioned by MPs on support for the aviation sector, Johnson said: “We’ve done everything we can to try to look after the aviation sector, although it has been incredibly hard for that sector.
“The best way forward is to get people flying again. It is a bit of a time to wait, but the travel taskforce will be reporting on April 12 and I’m hopeful we’ll be able to make progress this summer. But we’ll have to wait and see.”
He also promised news of the government’s long-promised Aviation Recovery Plan on April 12 after Labour MP Ruth Cadbury asked when the plan would appear.
Johnson told her: “You will be hearing a lot more about that and other matters on April 12.”
When one MP suggested the government should have imposed tough restrictions on travel early in the pandemic, Johnson said: “We have a very tough regime for travel and we will be studying all the lessons from the early days of the pandemic.”
Johnson told MPs: “We all want to open up, but we also don’t want to see another surge.
“We have dates to which businesses can now work. They are ‘not before’ dates. I think people would rather have certainty than haste.”
“These dates are not arbitrary. They’re crucial. They’re dictated by the science. The best way to open is to have a roadmap and to stick to it and not have to go back on it.”
Vaccination certification review
The Prime Minister also promised a review of vaccination certification.
Speaking at a government briefing last night, he said: “Other countries will inevitably think about insisting on vaccination certificates, so they are likely to be important in conversations about international travel.
“But clearly there are some quite complex issues. All that needs to be gone into. So we’ll have a review of the issue.”