The speech made by Chris Grayling, the Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, in the House of Commons on 1 February 2021.
The past 12 months have been devastating for many people in my constituency and around the economy in different sectors—in hospitality, events, and entertainment. Jobs have virtually disappeared overnight. What has been particularly striking to me over that time is how many of the people in my constituency had been dependent on the travel sector for their job or their business. In a year when international travel has virtually ground to a halt, and it has by comparison with where we were before, their predicament is dreadful. While for many businesses there is some light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccination programme brings forward the day when lockdown restrictions can end, the same cannot right now easily be said for the travel sector. The issue is not about whether we can give people the chance to sun themselves on a beach; it is about the future of a sector that is crucial to our economy and that simply cannot cope with the loss of a second summer season in a row. This impact on a crucial sector is why the motion today is so poorly thought through.
I have to say, reluctantly, that I support the measures the Government have taken to restrict access to the UK from countries most at immediate risk from the new variants of the virus. Of course it is not desirable, but it has to happen. It is right to take a precautionary approach, but imposing these kinds of border restrictions on a blanket basis would have the effect of destroying even more jobs both here and elsewhere for no apparent reason, because the reality is that virus rates are higher here than in many of the countries people are coming from.
The challenge now is to ensure that the restrictions are as short-lived as possible and that we can reopen travel for this vital summer season without the risk of generating a resurgence of the virus in doing so. A solution to this, in my view, is before us and the Government must now take it. Last week, the Health Secretary told me that he was confident that lateral flow tests were a fit and proper way of preventing infection being imported into nursing homes, so why are they not the cornerstone of our strategy to open up airports and other means of travel, not right now, because the current restrictions are necessary, but as part of a plan to reopen the sector properly later this spring? Test people before they depart and test people on arrival. That way, we should not need to quarantine people. If a test result can show infection at the point of arrival and we can back that up with a properly policed quarantine system, there really is no reason why travel cannot reopen later this spring for a proper summer season.
If we do not do that, the result will be waves of job losses in a sector that is vital to the future for all of us. That is why the Opposition are being so thoughtless, in my view, when they call for this blanket lockdown. The consequences will be more businesses going bust and more jobs lost. That we cannot afford any more of than we absolutely have to for health reasons.