Robert Courts, the aviation and maritime minister, has defended the government’s recently announced framework for the resumption of international travel, and batted away suggestions the policy and its roll-out have been deliberately convoluted to stop people from travelling.
Courts appeared before the government’s travel committee on Wednesday (14 April) to field MPs questions on the findings of the Global Travel Taskforce, which on Friday (9 April) issued its report setting out a pathway to a resumption of international travel.
Chair of the committee, Huw Merriman MP, asked Courts whether the lack of clarity and detail in the taskforce’s report on several key issues, notably how countries will be categorised according to a new traffic light system, was a deliberate ploy to restrict traveller numbers.
"We are trying to protect public health, but seeking to unlock travel," said Courts. "I want to see people flying and on ships again. This incredible travel sector has always been a world leader, and I want it to be again.
"But it [the restart] must be robust and sustainable. We don’t want to go backwards – it is a twin balancing act. This lays out the framework in terms of the traffic light system, but there are a number of other things we are working on... such as the countries in each [traffic light] channel. We have also acknowledged there is work to do to bring down the cost of travel."
Merriman asked Courts why the government came out with a traffic light system now without being able to commit to categorising countries until early May, which could be little more than a week before a limited resumption of travel on 17 May – the government’s "at the very earliest" date for the restart.
Courts said he acknowledged there was a tension between giving certainty and being accurate. "At the moment, we’ve said no international travel until 17 May," he said, stressing the decisions on how to categorise countries must be made on the data that exists at the time. "We are still some distance from that date," he added.