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PM urged by transport committee chairman to clarify questions on traffic light system

Transport committee chairman Huw Merriman is calling on Boris Johnson to clarify seven questions about the government’s traffic light system for international travel.

The MP says in a letter to the prime minister that it is “imperative that the public has clarity on how to determine safe options for travel”.

He has also written to home secreatary Priti Patel to ensure that international arrivals to the UK enter the country via an efficient process that does not compromise safety.

Merriman called for a response by June 28 – the date of the second traffic light system review.

He was one of a group of MPs including former prime minister Theresa May who criticised the government over its traffic light policy for international travel during a Westminster debate on the aviation and travel sectors on Thursday.  

In is letter to Johnson, Merriman points out that his committee previously concluded that the Global Travel Taskforce report contained “insufficient detail to allow businesses to prepare for, and travellers to engage in, the planned safe restart of international travel”.

Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle, is seeking clarification on a series of questions about the traffic light system “with travellers and industry still uncertain about the decision-making process used to determine whether countries are classified as ‘red’, ‘amber’ or ‘green'”.

These are:

  • Will the government publish the minuted decisions it makes when moving countries between the ‘red’, ‘amber’ and ‘green’ lists, as well as the criteria used to reach these decisions?
  • When will a green watchlist be introduced to accompany the traffic light system for international travel?
  • Under what conditions will a country be moved straight from the green list to the amber list without being placed on the green watchlist?
  • Is it your recommendation that United Kingdom residents do not travel abroad? If so, for how long will this recommendation be in place for and what factors will lead to this recommendation being altered?
  • Will the government commit to providing sector specific support to the travel and aviation industries if there is no significant expansion of the green list to include popular travel destinations by the 28 June formal review period?
  • Bearing in mind that the government has effectively prevented the travel and aviation industries from functioning, will the government commit to extending the furlough scheme for the travel and aviation industries until the beginning of the summer 2022 travel season (April 2022)?
  • Will the government commit to publishing individual assessments of countries’ coronavirus risk level by 28 June and subsequent review period. He adds: “To support the aviation and travel sectors and Global Britain, it is imperative that the government addresses concerns about the predictability and transparency of the traffic light system for international travel.

Merrmian also points out: “If an unknown risk is the benchmark for reopening international travel, we will never be able to resume regular operations.

“In order to provide transparency, will the government commit to publishing a public health milestone (for example, when all people aged 50 and older and the clinically vulnerable have been offered two vaccinations) against which (a) quarantine requirements and (b) testing requirements will be removed?”

Writing to Patel, Merriman points out that the transport committee previously recommended that the government introduce further measures to speed up border processing times by deploying more staff at the border and requiring paperwork for entry to be processed before arrival.

He posed a series of questions about border operations “with queues at airports continuing to pose a challenge to public health”.

These are:

  • What are the coronavirus public health requirements passengers must meet in order to disembark and be granted entry into the United Kingdom?
  • How does the process for checking these requirements change when a country moves from the ‘green’ list to the ‘amber’ list, and from the ‘amber’ list to the ‘red’ list in the government’s traffic light system?
  • What plans do you have to make those requirements interoperable with e- gates at airports?
  • What is the average time that it takes a Border Force officer to make manual checks of these requirements?
  • How many full-time equivalent Border Force staff have been deployed to process entry requirements at the border? How does this compare with the number of full-time equivalent Border Force staff processing entry requirements before 15 January 2021?
  • What percentage of recent international arrivals failed to fulfil the requirements for entry to the UK at the border?

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