Government criticised over lack of airport testing amid concern over post-Brexit border plans

Published by Scott Challinor on September 4th 2020, 11:11am

Backbench Conservative MPs have criticised the government’s hesitation to implement airport testing, calling on ministers to take a new approach on the issue.

The MPs hope that airport testing will help reduce the blanket quarantine window and ease the disruption to holidaymakers’ plans, therefore relieving some of the aviation sector’s woes.

Confusion arose on Thursday night as it was announced that travellers coming to the UK from Portugal would need to quarantine if returning to Scotland or Wales, but not if going to England or Northern Ireland. Travel firms responded by calling for urgent clarity on the deviation in approach.

The Telegraph quotes one MP as saying that not introducing airport testing was “typical of our incompetence and lack of direction”, adding that there was “no explanation” for why it could not be implemented.

The MP added: "Colleagues are irritated and mystified.”

Another MP said that although there was anxiety over false negatives and needed to test again seven days after the airport test, such procedure would “halve the quarantine”, which had to be “good for the economy.”

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt - who now chairs the Commons Health Select Committee - and ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling are known backers of introducing airport testing.

When quizzed on airport testing on Friday, transport secretary Grant Shapps warned that it would not work as “a silver bullet” to end the quarantine law.

Shapps also told Times Radio that airport testing was "not totally pointless" but would "not be the way out" of quarantine.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast about the deviation in quarantine rules among the devolved nations, Shapps said that the difference in strategy was akin to the way lockdown rules had been lifted at different times in different parts of the UK.

He said: "It is similar, unfortunately, with the quarantining where we look at the data and then we do speak, but, I'm afraid, quite often come to slightly different outcomes, which I appreciate is confusing for people."

Shapps described Portugal as being a “borderline” country, adding that England and Northern Ireland both thought “it did not justify quarantine this week”.

Speaking on BBC Radio Four, Shapps suggested that Scotland had “sort of jumped the gun” in another of its quarantine moves, by choosing to implement restrictions for any arrivals coming from Greece.

Wales, meanwhile, has introduced a quarantine for any arrivals from six of the Greek islands only.

Shapps said: "I'm very keen and do try to coordinate... with the other administrations so we can both announce at the same time, and ideally both announce the same things, and this week that didn't work out."

Meanwhile, eight haulage organisations have written to chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove to request an “urgent” meeting about the UK’s Brexit border plans.

The letter warns of “significant gaps” within current plans and suggests that the UK-EU supply chain could be “severely disrupted” if certain issues are not addressed before the end of the transition period in December.

Areas that the logistics experts are keen to discuss revolve around physical border infrastructure and IT systems.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Radio Four he was happy to meet with haulage leaders, adding that he has “very, very regular contact” with “people like the Road Haulage Association”, an organisation which was among the letters signatories.

He also reassured that the government will work to make sure that the “best systems are in place” when Brexit is fully enacted.

Elsewhere on Friday, construction on the controversial HS2 rail project began, with prime minister Boris Johnson promising that it will deliver 20,000 jobs, help the UK “build back better” and become “the spine of our country’s transport network”.

Johnson said: HS2 is at the heart of our plans to build back better – and with construction now formally underway, it’s set to create around 22,000 new jobs.

“As the spine of our country’s transport network, the project will be vital in boosting connectivity between our towns and cities.

“But HS2’s transformational potential goes even further. By creating hundreds of apprenticeships and thousands of skilled jobs, HS2 will fire up economic growth and help to re-balance opportunity across this country for years to come.”

The four main contractors for the first phase of the network, which will run between London and the West Midlands, have now moved to full construction.

The majority of HS2 work in 2020 will be concentrated on city centre station sites and construction compounds, with stations and tunnels handled first before the work moves onto viaducts and bridges along the route.

On Thursday, several business leaders met virtually with business secretary Alok Sharma and asked the government to change its guidelines on Covid secure premises to allow more people to return to work, according to the Telegraph.

The chiefs of Rolls Royce, Natwest, Unilever, British Land, EY, and Dentons told Sharma that the government’s own guidelines restrict office capacity to one in five desks in some cases. Representatives of the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, and the Federation of Small Businesses were also involved in the call.

The meeting came after new figures showed that footfall on UK high streets in August was 42 per cent down on 2019.

Businesses have pinned the blame on continued home working and urged the government to do more to encourage people to return to offices.

On Thursday this week, the Telegraph reported that a government drive to encourage employees back to work had been postponed until next week, having been due to launch on Friday.

However, the prime minister’s official spokesman then sparked confusion over the plans, after claiming that there “has never been a back to work campaign” and explaining that it would take the form of a public information push.

The spokesman said that the public awareness campaign would consist of social media content directing businesses to updated government guidelines, alongside newspaper adverts encouraging the public to return to their workplaces.

Photo by Colin D on Unsplash

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Authored By

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
September 4th 2020, 11:11am

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