MPs denounce ‘ridiculous’ travel controls and ‘outrageous’ VIP exemption

MPs demanded the government relax restrictions on travel and provide aid for the sector in a debate on aviation travel and tourism at Westminster on Thursday.

The debate took place in advance of the transport secretary’s updates, which saw a commitment to quarantine-free travel from amber list destinations and more countries added to the green list from next Wednesday.

Crawley MP Henry Smith denounced a government decision to exempt international ‘VIPs’ from ‘amber’ list quarantine restrictions to allow them to attend European Championship football games at Wembley.

Smith warned: “Respect for the restrictions is beginning to break down.

“Wembley will be three quarters full because there will be an exception for VIP guests to come from Europe. It isn’t right to have one rule for VIPs and another for everyone else.

“If parents can’t go to a school sports day it is not right for VIPs to be able to go to Wembley.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw agreed, denouncing the decision as “absolutely outrageous”.

Bradshaw also renounced his own party’s calls for tighter border controls and suggested the continuing restrictions “have nothing to do with data and everything to do with politics and control”.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee, slammed the government’s policy as “ridiculous” saying: “I’m sick and tired of it on behalf of all the people who want their lives back.”

Several MPs highlighted the plight of travel agents following the Travel Day of Action on June 23.

Jessica Morden, Labour MP for Newport East, said: “I joined the lobby to show my support for the travel industry. My concern is for smaller travel agents who have had limited access to general support measures and no sector-specific support.

“The shortage of cash flow is especially pronounced for these businesses.”

Andy Carter, Conservative MP for Warrington South, agreed. He said: “Pilots, cabin crew, travel agents made compelling arguments for support for the sector.

“I hear from travel agents in my constituency that consumer confidence has been shattered.

“Travel companies make their money in the summer to survive the winter so we need to look carefully at extending furlough which is due to come to end in September.”

Scottish National Party MP Patricia Gibson called for support grants “for travel agents, tour operators and travel management companies”.

Labour’s shadow transport minister Mike Kane said: “It was heartening to see the whole industry come together [on June 23].

“The Chancellor promised at the beginning of the pandemic that he would deliver an aviation recovery strategy. We still haven’t seen it. This delay can’t go on.”

Kane argued the sector “has to get a summer season or a support package”.

Aviation minister Robert Courts told MPs: “I would like this House not to be under any illusions. This government recognises the importance of and deeply values the international travel industry.”

But he insisted: “It’s essential the steps we take now lay the basis for a sustainable return of travel. The traffic light system cautiously balances restarting with managing the risk posed by variants of concern.

“Decisions by ministers are guided by the Joint Biosecurity Centre and a summary of the data is made available. As the data allows we will open up travel.

“It is so important we don’t throw away the hard-won gains we’ve made. It’s cautious because it is meant to be robust.”

Asked to explain why other European countries are opening up ahead of the UK, Courts argued: “Every country has approached this in a slightly different way. I can’t foreshadow any announcement.”

But he said: “We are working to consider the role of vaccines in a different system which we will set out in due course.”

He insisted the current traffic light system “is not set in stone” and added: “We are looking to develop a system that can coexist with Covid-19. The first review [of the system] is imminent and we will be setting that out.”

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