Matt Hancock has denied claims the government has sowed confusion over whether people can expect a summer holiday in 2021.
The health secretary – who has already booked his own break in Cornwall – said on Thursday that it was too still early to say if people could get away, urging the public to be “patient”.
Last month Mr Hancock predicted a “great British summer” and talked about his own plan to visit Cornwall. But on Wednesday transport secretary Grant Shapps warned: “People shouldn’t be booking holidays right now, not domestically or internationally.”
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he agreed with Mr Shapps, the health secretary said: “I’m saying exactly the same as every other minister is saying, which is there is uncertainty, and that means we cannot make categorical assurances.”
Denying any inconsistency, Mr Hancock added: “I know that people are yearning to have a direct answer, because people look forward to summer holidays so much. But unfortunately there is that uncertainty. We are going to have to be patient.”
His comments came as Downing Street revealed that Boris Johnson has not yet booked a family holiday for this summer, though his official spokesman said he was hoping to get away.
“Of course we are doing everything we can to make sure people can have a holiday this summer, and we know people are keen for certainty,” said the spokesman.
“But we are unfortunately not in a position to set out more detail at the moment. The prime minister said yesterday it’s too early to know what people will be able to do this summer.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he had a holiday in Devon booked for August, but added: “We are going to have to see. It’s subject to the restrictions and that’s the best anybody can do.”
He acknowledged it was “really difficult” for ministers to know what will happen over the coming months.
“I’m not going to stand here and criticise the government for being unable to say with precision what’s going to happen in August,” said Starmer. “I don’t think that’s fair.
“What I do think they should avoid is mixed messages – so don’t say, one day, through the prime minister, ‘it’ll all be fine’ and through the transport secretary say ‘don’t book a holiday’.”
Influential Conservative MP Sir Charles Walker – vice chair of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers – accused the government of “sowing confusion” among a “stressed-out population”.
But asked about his previous claims about a “great British summer” ahead, Mr Hancock told LBC: “I absolutely hope for a great British summer and I’m working incredibly hard to try to make sure that can happen.”
He again claimed he fellow ministers “have all been saying exactly the same thing”. The minister also said he still “hoped” to get away to Cornwall. “I booked a place months ago, and of course I hope to [go], but there is this uncertainty.”
“Even before we get to whether we’re going on holiday or where we’re going on holiday, how soon we can see and hug our loved ones is important,” Mr Hancock said.
Mr Johnson, speaking at the latest Downing Street press conference, said on Wednesday: “I am afraid it is just too early for people to be certain about what we’ll be able to do this summer.”
Earlier in February, however, Mr Johnson had said he was “optimistic” about the prospect of summer holidays, so long as the vaccination programme goes well.
Noel Josephides, chairman of tour operator Sunvil, said MrJohnson and his ministers have “never been completely accurate” during the pandemic. “We don’t believe that once people are vaccinated they are going to worry about travelling abroad,” he told LBC.
“And it’s on that basis that we are going ahead [with our plans]. And if, in fact, the government waits until everybody is vaccinated then by that time there won’t be a travel industry.”
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