Police chiefs have warned Mark Drakeford’s plan to impose a travel ban on English visitors to Wales from coronavirus hotspots is ‘unenforceable’.
The Welsh First Minister announced yesterday he intends to prohibit entry to people from areas with high levels of Covid-19 if Boris Johnson fails to impose UK-wide travel restrictions.
But the Police Federation of England and Wales said ‘policing in Wales is already over-stretched due to the pandemic’ and the new measures would add ‘yet another level of complexity to policing’.
Meanwhile, the proposals have sparked a furious political backlash with Tory MPs labelling the move ‘heavy handed and stupid’ as they also accused Mr Drakeford of being ‘guilty of small man syndrome’.
Mr Drakeford defended his proposals this morning as he said police could use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology to catch visitors from banned areas of the UK.
He also said holiday providers in Wales should not accept bookings from people in hotspot areas of the UK as he warned existing getaway plans ‘will no longer be able to be honoured’.
It came as Nicola Sturgeon backed Mr Drakeford’s call for nationwide travel restrictions on high incidence areas as she said she would not rule out imposing a Wales-style ban on visitors.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford (pictured in Cardiff in May) said people from coronavirus hotspots in the UK would be hit with fines if they travel to Wales
Tory MPs have accused Mr Drakeford of being ‘guilty of small man syndrome’. The Welsh First Minister is pictured with Boris Johnson in July last year
Nicola Sturgeon has backed Mr Drakeford’s calls for Mr Johnson to introduce UK-wide travel restrictions on hotspot areas
What laws can be used to stop the English travelling to Wales?
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday announced an extraordinary bid to ban people from coronavirus hotspots in England entering the country.
In Wales, health protection legislation – a devolved power – falls under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.
It was updated in 2010 to give public authorities ‘more comprehensive powers and duties to prevent and control risks to human health from infection or contamination’.
In its basic form, the act allows Welsh ministers to make laws ‘for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination in Wales’.
The laws that can be put forward include ‘restrictions or requirements on or in relation to persons, things or premises in the event of, or in response to, a threat to public health’.
While the act does not specifically mention limitations on movements, the travel ban will likely be made law using the powers it grants.
Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Parliament yesterday that he had asked for work on the travel ban to be brought forward after Mr Johnson failed to reply to two letters requesting he introduce the measure across the UK.
The Welsh Government’s plans will bring people elsewhere in the UK in line with measures currently in place in the 17 areas of Wales under local lockdown restrictions.
Under those rules, people must not enter or leave an affected area without a reasonable excuse such as work or education.
But currently, people living in Covid-19 hotspots elsewhere in the UK are free to enter areas of Wales not under restrictions where levels of the virus are low.
The ban is likely to apply to people living in Tier Two and Tier Three areas of England and is designed to prevent them from travelling to tourist destinations such as the far west and south west of Wales, which have low levels of coronavirus.
It will also affect those living in areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland with a high prevalence of Covid-19.
Those who ignore the restrictions will be breaking the law and could face fixed penalty notices starting at £50.
But Mark Bleasdale, Police Federation of England and Wales’ Welsh Lead, said: ‘On the face of it, this is unenforceable because of the difficulty of identifying where people are coming from and where they are going to.
‘There will also be plenty of individuals travelling legitimately from areas which are not high risk, and this will only add to the other difficulties officers face when policing the existing regulations.
‘Some areas of Wales are already in lockdown, and many individuals are already unable to travel in and out of counties unless they have good reason. In other locations provisions are more relaxed, so this proposed travel ban adds yet another level of complexity to policing.’
Mr Drakeford’s proposals have prompted a political firestorm, with Tory MPs furious at the prospect of the Welsh government banning visitors from some parts of England.
One Tory MP suggested Mr Drakeford, who is approximately the same height as Mr Johnson who is 5ft 9ins tall, was trying to overcompensate for the relative small size of Wales compared to England by proposing such tough action.
They said: ‘It is a thoroughly bad idea. Drakeford is a quasi-nationalist. He quite clearly is guilty of small man syndrome.
‘He is going to make himself look rather foolish and I suspect the police will just pay lip service to it.
‘It is heavy handed and stupid and he is going to cultivate an awful lot of grievance.’
Tory member of the Welsh Parliament Andrew RT Davies said: ‘The Welsh Government’s unhealthy obsession with travel restrictions and ”banning the English” flies in the face of all the evidence.’
Former minister Simon Clarke said: ‘The balkanisation of the United Kingdom in this way is profoundly to be regretted. Not what devolution ought to be about.’
The Welsh Government will ban people from Covid hotspots in England entering the country
The cases by date reported are shown above for the four UK Nations. It shows the number of individuals who have had at least one lab-confirmed positive Covid-19 test result
Mr Drakeford defended his proposals this morning as he said ANPR technology could be used by police to identify visitors from areas of the UK with high levels of coronavirus.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I believe the police will have a range of techniques that they will be able to use.
‘Number plates are one of the ways in which they are able to identify cars that are travelling long distances, but that won’t be the only way.
‘They will have long-practised techniques developed earlier in the year and they will apply those again over the weeks to come.’
Mr Drakeford said he is ‘baffled’ by Mr Johnson’s reluctance to impose travel restrictions on people in Covid-19 hotspots across the UK.
He said Mr Johnson ‘could still change his mind and then we wouldn’t need to do what we are doing’.
There are growing fears the travel ban will do lasting damage to the Welsh tourism industry.
Mr Drakeford said holiday providers in Wales should not accept half-term bookings from people in high incidence areas of the UK.
Asked about existing bookings, he told BBC Breakfast: ‘I’m afraid those bookings will no longer be able to be honoured.’
The SNP leader said she wants all parts of the UK to restrict travel from areas with the highest number of cases, as she warned Scots not to travel to or from hotspots inside the country, mainly around the Central Belt where cases are soaring.
She added: ‘The First Minister of Wales is seeking agreement between the four UK nations on travel restrictions where necessary from high prevalence areas in one UK nation to lower prevalence in others.
‘I want to be clear today that I back the calls from the First Minister of Wales and I’ll be writing to the Prime Minister today to seek urgent talks on that issue.
‘If we think putting formal travel restrictions in place is necessary, we will do that. I don’t rule that out – I don’t rule anything out. But obviously the police can’t stop everyone on the roads to check whether they are travelling for essential purposes.’
Miss Sturgeon was reported to have asked for urgent legal advice on whether a cross-border travel ban can be introduced.
And this morning, the SNP’s Westminster leader said Scotland could implement measures to prevent non-essential travel from coronavirus hotspots.
Ian Blackford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We of course have the opportunity to put in place appropriate public health measures.
‘What we can do, if necessary, is say that people should not travel from hotspots, whether they should be from in Scotland or people coming to Scotland from other parts of the United Kingdom.’