UK Border: Covid Protections

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:36 pm on 26th January 2021.

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Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Home Secretary 12:36 pm, 26th January 2021

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and to the Home Secretary for her response. It is good to see her in her place, and I hope we will see her there again to answer questions about how 400,000 police records were deleted and give us the promised update on that matter.

The efforts of the British people and the hopes of the vaccine are being undermined by the Government’s inability to secure our borders against covid. Conservative incompetence is putting our country at risk. Labour is calling for a comprehensive hotel quarantine system, with protections to secure us against new strains. It cannot be restricted to only a handful of countries, leaving gaping holes in our defences against different strains of the virus emerging around the world. The Government must also announce a sector support package for aviation.

The Government’s proposals being briefed to the press are half-baked and will be ineffective. As ever, it is too little, too late. From the start of the pandemic, the Government’s handling of measures at the border has been chaotic. There has not been a comprehensive strategy as the Home Secretary suggested. Indeed, from January last year to 23 March, only 273 people were formally quarantined. I wrote to the Home Secretary in April and asked her to learn the lessons of that, but still by May the UK was an international outlier, with virtually no travel controls.

When formal quarantining was introduced in June, the policy was so badly handled that it was ineffective. It is not being properly enforced, and the Government’s own figures show that only 3% of people are being successfully contacted to ensure that they are observing the quarantine. Even the introduction of mandatory testing was delayed because the Government could not get the structures in place.

On the briefed plans for hotel quarantine, can the Home Secretary confirm when formal plans will be introduced? Will they be comprehensive or limited to a few countries? If they are limited, how will that be acceptable when the quarantining system is in such disarray? Put simply, what confidence can the public have in the Government on this issue if Ministers are not prepared to learn from their own mistakes?