Former prime minister Theresa May has blasted the government’s traffic light system as “chaotic” and questioned why travel is more restricted this summer, despite the UK’s high vaccination rates against Covid-19.
During a debate on the travel industry in the House of Commons, May said the UK had “gone backwards” in the past year and travel restrictions were now tighter than they had been in summer 2020 when there was no vaccine available.
“We have a devastated industry, jobs lost and global Britain shut for business,” she said. “Rather than being further forward, we have gone backwards. We have over 50% of the population vaccinated and yet we’re more restricted on travel than we were last year.”
May added that she had visited Switzerland and South Korea last year when there was no vaccine available.
“This year, there’s a vaccine but travel is not possible,” she said. “I really don’t understand the stance the government is taking. The messaging is mixed and the system chaotic.”
May also cited the situation of Portugal being initially put on the green list and then moved to the amber list earlier this week with only a few days notice.
“This left holidaymakers scrambling for flights and devastated families having to cancel their plans, not to mention the impact on airlines and travel agents here,” said the former PM.
She added that business travel was “practically impossible” at the moment and “global Britain has shut its doors to business and investors”.
May also warned that the government’s policy was threatening aviation’s ability to remain a “key sector” after the pandemic.
“If the government’s position is that we cannot open up travel until there’s no new variants elsewhere in the world, then we will never be able to travel abroad ever again,” she added.
Fellow MPs also criticised the government for being “over cautious” when it comes to opening up international travel and it was “squandering” the opportunities created by the UK’s successful vaccination programme.
Huw Merriman, chairman of the transport committee, said he had written to prime minister Boris Johnson seeking “more clarity and certainty and to set out the rules base” for the traffic light system.
“This government, and all these other front benches, need to wake up to [the fact that] this industry is on its knees,” he added.
Another MP Henry Smith, whose constituency includes Gatwick, said he feared another “lost summer” for the travel industry, which could cost the UK economy £19 billion, and added the government was squandering the opportunities created by the vaccine roll-out.
“We are at a competitive disadvantage to other countries. We are squandering that advantage by being over-cautious and not being able to open up,” he said.