Protesters from the travel industry will descend on Parliament this week in a mass demonstration to highlight the ‘desperate’ situation as borders remain closed.
On Wednesday, 800 staff from businesses including easyJet, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and the holiday giant TUI will march on College Green in Westminster aiming to force Boris Johnson to extend the green list and save the summer.
The Travel Day of Action was organised to lobby MPs to back fledgling airlines and tourism operators and extend financial support, including the furlough scheme.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the trade body Airlines UK, will be among the attendees.
Huw Merriman, Conservative chairman of the Commons travel select committee, said: ‘This lobby is a great opportunity for more MPs to hear first-hand from constituents whose jobs and businesses are at risk from border and travel restrictions.
On Wednesday, 800 staff from businesses including easyJet, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and the holiday giant TUI will march on College Green in Westminster aiming to force Boris Johnson to extend the green list and save the summer. Pictured, Portugal
‘Perhaps the pressure will cause each of the Conservative, Labour and SNP front-bench teams to stop competing as to who can devise the harshest restrictions on international travellers and, as a knock-on, its workforce.’
Ahead of the event companies representing both domestic and overseas travel are writing to MPs to alert them of their ‘desperate’ situation.
One MP said: ‘You’ve got legal pressure cranking up, parliamentary pressure cranking up, and people inside Government cranking up pressure.’
This month former Prime Minister Theresa May launched a blistering attack on the Government’s travel restrictions, which have left global Britain ‘shut for business’.
She told MPs: ‘It is incomprehensible, I think, that one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world is the one that is most reluctant to give its citizens the freedoms those vaccinations should support.’
Today, another former Cabinet Minister also hits out at the ‘devastating travel ban that has put tourism and aviation on their knees’.
Tim Alderslade (pictured), chief executive of the trade body Airlines UK, will be among the attendees
Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, Dr Liam Fox says: ‘As a former International Trade Secretary, it pains me to look at a half- empty Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s great transport hubs, and a centre not only of passenger travel but many of our exporting businesses.
He added: ‘To talk of closing our borders, as one Government adviser did last week, is to lose the plot.’
Unite, the trade union, is also organising a demonstration at Manchester Airport, where staff will hold placards and post pictures of the protest on social media.
At Heathrow, staff and union officials will highlight the impact of the travel ban by posing for photos on empty runways and in closed terminals.
Tim Hawkins, chief of staff at Manchester Airports Group, said the aim of the day was to ‘demonstrate the level of concern there is among people right across the aviation industry’.
He added: ‘We are really concerned we are facing a summer with the prospect of so little traffic. Over a million jobs rely on the aviation industry in the UK. We would really hope Ministers will listen to these concerns.
‘There is a huge disparity of the UK’s approach and other countries, where travel is being allowed under much less stringent conditions – people with vaccines can travel, and if you haven’t been vaccinated you need a pre- departure test.’
New data this weekend shows the UK’s travel industry has been the hardest hit in Europe, with a 73 per cent collapse in flights to and from the UK compared with 2019.
Industry estimates show more than a third (37 per cent) of the UK’s 526,000 travel and tourism jobs could be wiped out due to the pandemic.
Luke Petherbridge, of the travel agent and tour operators’ association Abta, one of the protest’s organisers, said: ‘The UK travel industry has had nowhere near the level of support needed to deal with the devastating impact on people’s jobs, livelihoods and businesses.
This month former Prime Minister Theresa May (pictured) launched a blistering attack on the Government’s travel restrictions, which have left global Britain ‘shut for business’
‘Figures don’t do justice in explaining the financial and emotional toll this has taken on those working in travel.’
Meanwhile, Cabinet support for opening up foreign travel is growing. A Government source said: ‘Accepting that having the second vaccine is what counts, there comes a moment where we can say we have done everything we can.
‘We can’t suspend the economy indefinitely. People are really hoping this is not going to be start-stop any more.’
MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT:
Holidays are good for those who take them – an innocent, mind-expanding pleasure. They are good for business.
Do Boris and Carrie Johnson not themselves dream of sitting in the Mediterranean sun by the never-resting, wine-dark sea, with a chilled glass of something delicious at their elbows?
Of course they do. But unlike the rest of us, the Prime Minister has the power to free millions, himself included, to fulfil this harmless, happy dream. He should do so.
Despite promises to open up travel on May 17 with the launch of a ‘green list’ of countries that can be visited without the need to quarantine, the only popular holiday destination, Portugal, was removed shortly after it was added. The list is next up for review on June 28.
Tory MP Marcus Fysh, who voted last week against the lockdown delay and backs reopening the UK’s borders, warned of ‘creeping authoritarianism’ and attacked the lockdown delay and the Government ‘over-egging’ the risk of a rise in infections.
It comes after Ryanair and the owners of London Stansted and Manchester airports took the Government to court over its refusal to reopen Britain’s borders. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have also joined the legal challenge.
Legal papers say the decision-making process behind the Government’s traffic lights system of green, amber and red travel destinations ‘lacks transparency in a fundamental way’, with no scientific data disclosed for any green or amber country except Portugal.
Yesterday, Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports, said: ‘Whilst not a direct participant of this legal challenge, we fully support it.
‘Throughout this pandemic we have heard Government state on numerous occasions that it is working with the aviation industry.
‘The fact it has taken a legal challenge from our industry colleagues to call for greater transparency around the traffic light system is a clear indication that there continues to be a fundamental lack of engagement.’
He said moving Portugal to the amber list was a ‘catastrophic blow for an industry on its knees’.
Time to get flying again! Former Minister DR LIAM FOX says Britain can’t be a nation of Covid neurotics forever
The British people have been enormously patient and resilient throughout the pandemic. They have put up with lockdown in all its misery to prevent the NHS being swamped and to stop lives being lost unnecessarily.
They have seen weddings postponed and have been unable to attend the funerals of loved ones.
But the British people are not stupid. They know that the world cannot be closed down and that, sooner or later, we will have to learn to live with Covid-19 just as we have learned to live with other viral illnesses over time.
They also know that every passing day of unnecessary restrictions means that lives and livelihoods are damaged or destroyed.
There is, perhaps, no more obvious example of this than the devastating travel ban that has put tourism and aviation on their knees.
As a former International Trade Secretary, it pains me to look at a half-empty Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s great transport hubs, and a centre not only of passenger travel but many of our exporting businesses.
As a former International Trade Secretary (pictured in April), it pains me to look at a half-empty Heathrow Airport
We will need these businesses to flourish to boost our recovery and provide the funds to rebalance the public purses that have been so severely hit in the pandemic. In a post-Brexit world, our global connections are more important than ever.
Then there is leisure travel, which needs to open up before it goes bust and before another holiday season is lost.
There is both confusion and anger about the ever-changing traffic-light system, where most can see no logic. Families desperate for a real break from the strain of lockdown have faced chaos as ‘lights’ change back and forth with very little information given about exactly how the decisions are taken.
Foreign visitors matter, too. Tourism has played a vital role in the British economy and must do so again. Shops, taxi drivers, pubs and restaurants all rely on foreign visitors. And so do the people they employ and suppliers they use.
And don’t imagine that foreign travel is all about Mediterranean sunloungers.
In today’s connected world, families have been kept apart, often for more than a year. Major life events have been missed.
I saw my own parents last weekend for the first time since Christmas 2019, and that is a long time. For many, the separation has been particularly cruel.
It is now time to start lifting the travel ban – not least because we know the vaccines are working well. Those who have had two doses are at little risk of infection, let alone serious illness, and should be allowed to travel much more freely and with minimal, if any, quarantine when they come home. So far, this covers more than 30 million UK adults.
The British people know that the world cannot be closed down and that, sooner or later, we will have to learn to live with Covid-19 just as we have learned to live with other viral illnesses over time. Pictured: Heathrow Airport in May
Ministers are said to be considering whether to admit 2,000 European football officials for the Wembley final of the Euros on July 11 without subjecting them to the tight quarantine rules that are such a millstone for the rest of us.
If they say yes, the double standard will infuriate the public – and not because the current quarantine regime makes any sense.
Much is made of the need to contain the Indian variant, but it is too late for that. That strain is already the dominant one in the UK and we know from Public Health England that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines can cope just as well with the Indian variant as they can with the Kent variant. Only if a new mutation emerges that renders the current vaccines ineffective would we have to panic, and such a variant is unlikely, given the way that viruses evolve.
Until now, the policies of the Government and those of its medical advisers have been much the same: to reduce the case numbers so that the NHS is not overwhelmed, and to save lives. But the medical profession’s responsibilities are not the same as those of the Government.
As a medical doctor by profession, who has also been a politician in charge of an international economic department, I understand these conflicting points of view. It is entirely understandable that the medical profession would want to take any measure, however illiberal, to keep downward pressure on the number of Covid-19 cases in the country.
That is what they do.
The Government needs to take a wider view, however, balancing the risks of the pandemic with the need to get our economy moving.
There is both confusion and anger about the ever-changing traffic-light system, where most can see no logic. Picture: Stock
Until now, I have backed the Government at every stage of the lockdown. I was unable to do so last week when it extended the Covid restrictions to July 19 as I did not believe it was justified by the data. We will know within a couple of weeks if the current rise in the number of cases results in a jump in hospitalisations that might once again risk swamping the NHS.
If this does not happen and immunisation rates continue to soar, then the Government should lift the lockdown earlier. It is clearly something that the Prime Minister and Health Secretary Matt Hancock want to see. So do the British people.
We need to get the NHS fully up and running to deal with the massive backlog of cases, including those cancer patients whose unavoidable extra wait will lead to equally unavoidably poorer outcomes. We need to get children back to full-time education and restore our normal social activities, whose disruption I fear will have caused a greater impact on many people than we understand at present.
But we must also start to generate the funds we need to rebalance our public finances, which have taken a drastic hit. And for this we must start to lift the ban on travel.
To talk of closing our borders, as one Government adviser did last week, is to lose the plot.
Such measures would be utterly out of proportion to the level of risk, and even to talk in these terms will frighten people unnecessarily.
The Indian strain is already the dominant one in the UK and we know from Public Health England that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines can cope just as well with the Indian variant as they can with the Kent variant. Pictured: Science Museum, London, vaccination centre
Those who praise the closed-door policies of New Zealand should consider the huge problem it now faces, along with other nations that have barricaded themselves in.
As Professor Graham Medley, who chairs a key Government advisory group, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, put it last week, New Zealand ‘is actually going to have to have an epidemic at some point, unless it wishes to keep its borders closed for ever’.
That is not possible in the real world.
Today, we are in danger of creating a generation of Covid neurotics, whose fear is driven by a bewildering array of scientific advisers, some of whom seem determined to promote their own narrow agendas on Twitter and the broadcast media.
Yet we cannot have a risk-free existence and the cost of even trying to get close to this goal could have profoundly damaging effects on our economy, our society and our people.
The vaccines programme in the UK has been a triumph. It is time to swap fear for optimism. Time to start rebuilding our lives and our economy.
And that means flying once again.