Nick Thomas-Symonds – 2020 Speech on UK Border Health Measures

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Labour MP for Torfaen, in the House of Commons on 3 June 2020.

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for providing us with advance sight of it.

We have been calling for sensible screening measures at the border for months, and will of course study the detail of what has been announced. It is vital that the UK has a plan for minimising the risk of infections coming into the country, but the Home Secretary must also realise that there are fundamental questions that she needs to answer: why these particular measures, and why now? From 1 January to 23 March, when the lockdown was imposed, only 273 people were formally quarantined from four flights—three from Wuhan and one from Tokyo—when over 18 million people enter the ​country by air. The Home Secretary just said in her statement that this was because domestic transmission was widespread, but the Government’s own chief scientific adviser said that

“a lot of the cases in the UK didn’t come from China and didn’t come from the place you might have expected, they came from European imports and the high level of travel into the UK at that time.”

Ministers saw on their television screens what was happening in Italy and Spain.

On 30 April, I wrote to the Home Secretary to ask her to publish in full the scientific advice that her decisions on measures at the border at that time were based on so that we could learn the lessons going forward. She has not even replied to my letter. Not making all that information public is a mistake. Unfortunately, like too much of the Home Office’s handling of this crisis, the management of arrivals to the United Kingdom has lacked urgency and coherence.

As long ago as 10 May, the Prime Minister gave notice of these quarantining measures. Why have the Government wasted precious weeks talking about possible border restrictions, rather than taking effective actions? If these measures are necessary from 8 June, why have they not been necessary in recent weeks or from when they were first announced by the Home Secretary herself —on 22 May? Can the Home Secretary give me her assurance that the measures that will take effect from Monday next week have been recommended and approved by SAGE? I join her in her praise of what those at Border Force have done, but can she give me further assurance that Border Force staff on the frontline will have all the resources and protection that they need?

The Government’s confusion over arrivals and quarantine has widespread implications for the UK economy, particularly aviation, hospitality and tourism, and related supply chains. Huge numbers of jobs are at risk, yet the crucial package of support for these industries that Labour has argued for has yet to materialise. In her statement, the Home Secretary mentioned a roundtable with the Transport Secretary and businesses tomorrow, but the Government should already have done that. They should be presenting these steps today as part of an all-encompassing approach to travel and the aviation sector, backed up by the published scientific evidence. This is necessary because there has to be reassurance that quarantine has a genuine public health benefit now that, according to the Government, it did not have in past months, and that these measures are not just a three-week fudge to try to spare the Government the embarrassment of failing to grip this issue at the right time.

Given that there is no vaccine at the moment and that test, track and isolate is not fully up and running as the Government promised it would be, will the Home Secretary make a commitment to report back to the House before the end of the initial three-week window on that first review that she mentioned in her statement, outlining her proposed exit strategy from these measures and her plans for any travel corridors? Can the Home Secretary pass on the message to the Government about how urgent it is that the comprehensive package to support jobs is brought forward as soon as possible?