Quarantine plan faces Tory revolt when they reach Commons this week - as senior backbencher brands it unworkable

Charles Hymas
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The Government’s quarantine plans face a Tory revolt when they reach the Commons this week, as a senior MP warned it was the “wrong policy” that will damage the economy.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, will on Tuesday lay the regulations in Parliament enacting the quarantine under which all international arrivals, including returning Britons, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

However, more than 20 Tory MPs including at least seven former ministers are demanding a rethink of the plans that are scheduled to come into force on June 8 and the introduction of “air bridges” with low-risk countries.

Huw Merriman, Conservative chair of the transport select committee, said: "Personally, I think it’s the wrong policy at this time and disproportionately impacts the economy.   

“We should ditch blanket quarantine and self-distancing on planes and have different measures such as air bridges, compulsory PPE and temperature testing at airports."  

Henry Smith, the Conservative MP who has formed a cross-party aviation group to campaign on the issue, said: “I would respectfully ask the Government to think again and listen to the growing groundswell of opinion against quarantine measures.”  

About 50 MPs now back the group including former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, former aviation minister Paul Maynard, former immigration minister Caroline Nokes, ex-transport and health minister Stephen Hammond and former Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers.  

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, ex-transport minister Nus Ghani, ex-health minister Philip Dunne and Andrew Griffiths – Boris Johnson's chief business advisor until December - are also understood to be opposed.  

The quarantine plan will be laid before Parliament as a statutory instrument which does not automatically go to a vote. Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will have to decide whether the scale of opposition merits a debate although MPs fear it could be caught in the row over electronic voting.

It comes as 217 tourism and travel businesses, including leading hotels, restaurateurs and travel firms have also now endorsed a letter to Ms Patel saying the quarantine plans are unworkable and economically damaging. According to the campaigners, they account for more than £5 billion sales.

The leader of the campaign for change, George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of tour operator Red Savannah, said: “This is not just a group of company bosses complaining, but employees from bottom to top calling for the quarantine plans to be quashed. The extent of employees’  concern is deeply worrying for our economy and our country.”

The Home Office, however, has defended the plans and warned that “air bridges” could themselves be unworkable. 

"There's no point having an air bridge to the south of France if someone could then cross to the north of Italy and be in a virus hotspot,” said one source. “It gets very, very complicated very quickly.

“Down the line, when it is reviewed three weeks on, any changes can be considered but it’s got to be led by the science. Everyone wants to come out of this as soon as possible but we can only do it when it is safe. 

“The last thing we want is a second wave [of the disease]. It would be horrendous for the economy to go back into lockdown now.”

Britain’s higher infection rate could also threaten the air bridge plan. Yesterday Spain joined Greece in excluding British tourists from a list of countries allowed to fly in when they start to lift travel restrictions this month (June) because of the UK’s high infection rate.

Spain’s tourist minister Maria Reyes Maroto said: “There the health situation still has to improve. For us it is important to guarantee that people arrive healthy and leave healthy.”