The government was too late to lock down but put Portugal onto the amber list too quickly, the chair of parliament’s transport select committee has said.
Tory MP Hugh Merriman blasted his own party during a speech on Abta’s Travel Matters.
“The government was far too lax in terms of securing our borders in the early days of the pandemic. I’m afraid that lax start seems to have become a driver for the far too cautious approach,” he said.
Merriman said he had asked the health secretary for a milestone as to when travel could return but was told it was “too early to tell; there could be unknown variants out there”. Merriman added: “There will always be unknown variants,” and said the vaccine was now protecting us.
He said his committee had pushed for the traffic light changes to be published earlier but added: “Yet what we were faced with was seeing Portugal on green, then as soon as (cabinet minister) Michael Gove had got back from the football, it went to amber.”
He asked: “We want to know if the government is driven by data, why it is not OK for Malta to move to green and Portugal to stay at green? What’s driving this? Is it public opinion? Probably we were too late adding India to the red list and closing borders and now we are taking the public pulse. I think that’s wrong.”
He said messages like the prospect of long queues at borders were designed to discourage travel, adding: “Many in the industry feel it’s a bit of a coincidence.” He also urged the government to use the “dead time” when the public were not travelling to link the NHS app to passenger locator forms.
Merriman urged the industry to join the protest at parliament on Wednesday. “It’s absolutely essential to lobby your MP,” he said. “Use your voice to come to parliament to lobby us.
“We have led the world in international aviation and travel standards, yet when it comes to the pandemic, we have not done so. We were laggards compared with other countries. Look at Europe now; they are travelling and we are left behind.”
However, he added: “I do think change is likely for those that have been jabbed,” and said he was “absolutely positive the market will come back in spades” once restrictions are lifted.