The transport secretary has defended the UK’s current border restrictions, saying that implementing strict Australia-style border closures would not help the UK get the coronavirus pandemic under control.
Grant Shapps said the same approach would not work for the UK as it is “an island nation – unlike Australia or something which is an entire continent”.
The UK’s proximity to continental Europe means it is essential that goods and people can continue to move in and out of the country, he said while giving evidence to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee.
The government has faced criticism for not introducing more stringent border controls in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, it announced the implementation of mandatory hotel quarantine for some travellers arriving in the UK, but has yet to set a date for when the rule will come into force.
Australia, on the other hand, enforced some of the toughest rules anywhere in the world in order to limit the spread of coronavirus. Only citizens, residents or immediate family members are allowed to enter the country, which has been able to ease lockdown restrictions in many areas.
But Mr Shapps insisted that a more restrictive approach for travellers would not work for the UK, as it relies “very, very heavily on our very close connections with our friends and partners, particularly in Europe but elsewhere around the world”.
He said: “People say ‘why don’t we just close down and then we’ll be safe?’.
“But, of course, we wouldn’t be safe because we are an island nation – unlike Australia or something which is an entire continent – and that means that we need to get medicines in, we need to get food in, we need to get our raw materials in, sometimes we have to move people around, scientists and others.
“If we weren’t doing these things then we simply wouldn’t be combating this crisis. In fact … we wouldn’t have had things like the medicines that we’ve needed or indeed the vaccinations, some of which are manufactured in Europe, only 20 miles away at its closest point.”
He added that the UK is not “an entire continent like the USA or Australia”, and that the government has “had to consider the practicalities of what we propose”.
Australia is the smallest of the world’s continents and is sometimes referred to as an “island continent”. It measures around three million square miles, while the UK is roughly 94,000sqm.
Mr Shapps also said that the UK “must not wrongly jump to the conclusion” that someone arriving from another country is “automatically problematic”.
He revealed to MPs that the government will not provide financial assistance to travellers who will have to stay in quarantine hotels, but stressed that people arriving from affected countries “will have known for quite some time that there were issues”.
“The numbers that we expect to see returning would be quite low,” he said.
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