I assume I can call you that – that is, after all, the affable way you like to present yourself. Boris Johnson – friend of the people. But not it seems, friend of business. Or at least travel businesses.
Which brings me to the point of this letter. I write to you not as the prime minister, but as leader of the so-called party of business. So-called because this party has been anything but the party of business to the travel industry.
Is it ignorance, I wonder? Are you even aware of the importance of this sector? Did you know for instance, that the outbound leisure and business travel sectors are worth an estimated £37.1 billion to the UK economy, and the inbound sector is worth an estimated £28 billion?
Or do you simply not care?
There are numerous theories flying around the industry as to why this might be the case (there are no customers, you see, thanks to your refusal to follow the very system your government put in place to enable international travel to resume. So with time on their hands, what else is there for this industry to do but wonder why on earth it’s been forgotten?).
So yes, there are theories. Some suggest you want to keep money in the UK – after all, why support an industry that will take precious currency out of Britain and place it into the hands of Johnny Foreigner?
Except, of course, as explained above that isn’t the case. UK travel businesses are exactly that – UK-based companies paying wages, national insurance, business rates, taxes, into the hands of your government and contributing a combined £65 billion to the country’s GDP. If they disappear – which thanks to your lack of support, many now will – those taxes will also disappear.
So why then, Boris, friend of the people, are you content to let an entire sector collapse before your very eyes?
It has now been 15 months without income or targeted support for this industry – why did hairdressers, gyms, restaurants deserve support over us? Why do their jobs matter more? Why has travel lost out every time?
Perhaps you think it’s OK – it’s just holidays. People can go without their holidays, right? Yes, Boris. But travel is also about so much more than that. It’s about bringing families back together and enabling businesses to connect with one another around the world.
And Boris, while people can go without holidays, they can’t go without jobs. And there are 3.9 million who rely on tourism for their livelihoods. That’s not just my view, Boris. That’s the figure quoted in The Times last weekend – “3.9 million people who are up to their necks on a rapidly sinking ship”.
Did you know thousands of these 3.9 million are travel agents? Perhaps not, after all, your good pal Grant Shapps told the nation in a Downing Street press conference that travel agents are a “thing of the past”.
But they’re not, Boris. They are very much a thing of the present – and should be a thing of the future. Except they won’t be unless your government urgently offers tailored support to this sector.
This industry doesn’t want much, I promise you. And it’s tried its hardest to scrape by over the past 15 months – numerous agents have already taken on second jobs to put food on tables.
But now, Boris, things are getting desperate. Graeme Brett, owner of award-winning independent agency Westoe Travel perhaps sums it up best: "Travel agents cannot carry on any longer without new financial support. Many took the £50,000 government loan and are having to find £833 a month to repay or defer the repayments for six months and have the interest add up.
"Furlough is also coming to an end with greater financial contribution due from employers before the scheme ends in September. Many employers are having to tell staff that they will not be able to keep their jobs unless they receive immediate financial support."
So you see, it really is that critical, Boris.
Yes, we understand the health and safety of the nation is paramount. We may not like the extension of the lockdown, but we understand it. We certainly don’t appreciate your refusal to use the traffic light system (the one your government put in place to finally support this industry before closing it again in June), but you must surely recognise that if you close our borders, it leaves an industry subsequently on its knees. An industry that now needs your urgent support.
How can a man who likes to quote Latin not understand something as simple as this?
On 23 June, the industry will unite in Westminster for a Travel Day of Action. I ask you to please listen, Boris. Please recognise the significance of this sector; appreciate the magnitude of what your government has done to it.
And then, Boris, friend of the people, please look 3.9 million people in the eye and tell them why their jobs don’t matter.