Former Prime Minister Theresa May has launched a damning attack on the Government’s handling of travel during COVID, which she said has ‘devastated industry, lost jobs and shut global Britain’.
In a debate in Parliament on aviation and travel, a clearly angry and frustrated Mrs May said UK travel policy is not only no further forward than it was this time last year, but has actually gone backwards, with few being able to travel, despite the successful vaccine rollout.
The former PM, Conservative MP for Maidenhead, said: “This is a disappointing debate. Disappointing because one year and one week ago the issue was raised in this house. The minister at the despatch box, it was a different minister at the time, but the minister promised me that the Government was working hard, across the sector, to get an internationally agreed standard health measures in place.
“One year on, we are no further forward. Indeed, what we have is a devastated industry, jobs lost and global Britain shut for business. More than not being any further forward, we’ve gone backwards.
“We now have over 50% of the adult population vaccinated a wonderful programme yet we’re more restricted on travel than we were last year.
“Last year in 2020 I went to Switzerland in August, South Korea in September, there was no vaccine, travel was possible. This year there is a vaccine – travel is not possible.
“I really don’t understand the stance the Government is taking.
“Of course, it is permissible to travel to countries on the amber list, provided it’s practical for you to quarantine when you come back, but Government ministers tell people that they mustn’t travel, they can’t go on holiday to places on the amber list.
“The messaging is mixed and the system chaotic.
“Portugal was put on the green list, people went to the football, then Portugal was put on the amber list, leaving holidaymakers scrabbling for flights and devastated families having to cancel their plans.
“Not to mention the impact on airlines, on travel agents here and on the travel industry, the tourist industry in our longest-standing trading partner in Europe.
“Business travel is practically impossible, global Britain has shut its doors to business and investors.
“In a normal year, pre-pandemic, passengers through Heathrow spent £16bn across our country, including at places like Legoland Windsor, which is partly in my constituency. That has been lost.”
She said the Government needed to be upfront and ministers need to ‘think more’ when making such decisions, adding:
“There will not be a time when we can say that there will never be another case of COVID-19 in this country. Secondly variants will keep on coming. There will be new variants every year.
“If the Government’s position will be that we cannot open up travel until there are no new variants elsewhere in the world, then we will never be able to travel abroad ever again.
“The Government needs to state much more clearly is that, sadly, people will die from COVID here in the UK in the future, as 10,000-20,000 do each year of flu. And we are falling behind the rest of Europe in our decisions to open up.”
And she warned: “The Government needs to decide whether it wants an airline industry and aviation sector in the UK or not because, at the rate it’s going, it won’t have one, certainly not as a key sector in the economy as it was pre-pandemic.
“It’s incomprehensible, I think, that one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world is one that is most reluctant to give its citizens the freedoms those vaccinations should support.”