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Government ‘owes it to travel’ to support the sector

Conservative MP Huw Merriman called on the industry to turn out in large numbers to lobby Parliament tomorrow, telling Abta’s Travel Matters conference “I urge you to come”.

Merriman, chair of the transport select committee of MPs, insisted: “The government owes it to the travel sector to lift restrictions and, if not, to support the industry.”

He argued: “If the government says you can’t travel, it has to pay for the cost of that decision.”

Merriman, who stepped in to address Abta’s Travel Matters at short notice after aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts withdrew, suggested: “I fear the government will pay heed to demands for change but keep travel restricted, so it has to compensate for that.”

He described the political parties as “in a race to the bottom” on demands for border restrictions and urged the industry: “Come down [to the lobby] tomorrow and give us what for.

“It is essential you lobby your MPs to show them there is a direct impact on their constituency.”

However, he warned: “The end of domestic restrictions will cause a logjam for international travel. It’s very difficult now for the government to say restrictions on international travel will be lifted [ahead of a domestic relaxation on July 19].

“I know the idea is being floated of double jabbing turning [restrictions] from amber to green when it comes to quarantine, probably not testing. That will happen – it’s just a question of when.

“I hope it will coincide with July 19, [that] it will happen for July and the government not wait for August. But my optimism sometimes gets ahead of me.”

Merriman has been critical of government policy on international travel throughout the pandemic and reported writing to prime minister Boris Johnson with a series of questions seeking clarity.

He pointed out: “Your customers need certainty. But no sooner is some new initiative taken than it is taken down. Portugal was put on the green list then all of a sudden removed.

“If people want to go on holiday to an amber country it should be possible, otherwise what is the point of an amber list?”

Merriman has also written to home secretary Priti Patel questioning the resources available to Border Force and preparations for travel’s restart.

He noted “a fear in the industry” that six-hour delays at the border are “part of some design to prevent people travelling” and said: “I don’t believe that. But we’ve asked for assurances that resources will be there and that the ‘dead time’ at the moment will be used to prepare.”

Merriman argued: “The UK has led the world on aviation standards, but when it came to this pandemic we have not.

“For the UK to be so slow to use Covid testing was laggard. We’ve all crowed about how successful the vaccination programme has been, but now we’re being left behind.”

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