Boris Johnson was facing a dramatic revolt from his own MPs last night over Covid testing at borders.
Former ministers joined furious business chiefs in demanding immediate action to get Britain flying again.
David Davis, Chris Grayling, Theresa Villiers and Paul Maynard were among senior Tories to speak out against the Government.
MPs reported a ‘groundswell of anxiety’ in the party’s ranks over the massive damage 14-day quarantine is inflicting on the economy.
It is thought that 40 backbenchers could join a rebellion over the shambles ahead of a Commons debate next week. Rolls-Royce and Airbus yesterday joined the Daily Mail’s Get Britain Flying Again campaign. It calls for a virus testing regime to rescue the economy and save thousands of jobs.
Despite the uproar, Mr Johnson yesterday insisted tests at airports and ports would create a ‘false sense of security’ and quarantine was ‘vital’ to tame the pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Pictured) has insisted tests at airports and ports would create a ‘false sense of security’ and quarantine was ‘vital’ to tame the pandemic
And Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested he was looking at a two-step testing system to reduce quarantine to ‘perhaps seven or eight days’. However he warned it was not a ‘silver bullet’ for air travel.
In return, industry leaders accused the Government of ‘completely disengaging’. They claimed ministers had cancelled all meetings on the issue two weeks ago and had failed to properly analyse data from the dozens of countries using airport testing.
Henry Smith, whose constituency includes Gatwick, led the Tory anger, saying: ‘We are supposed to be looking to be global Britain and yet we are at a competitive disadvantage to those countries like Germany, like France, that are testing passengers.
‘I would urge the Government to reconsider. That is a very important part of public health confidence, confidence in flying and competitiveness of the UK economy.’
Senior Tories Patrick McLoughlin, Iain Duncan Smith, Jeremy Hunt and Damian Green all also support testing. As Labour demanded a rapid review of the ‘chaotic’ self-isolation scheme:Ryanair threw its support behind the Mail’s testing campaign while Rolls-Royce and Airbus warned thousands of jobs were at stake; Virgin Atlantic said it would cut 1,150 more jobs and Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye warned of an ‘unemployment pandemic’; Pilots union Balpa said the Government’s response was ‘lamentable’ and wrote to Mr Shapps to demand airport testing; Airlines UK said quarantine had led to the worst year for British aviation in three decades; Economists said the restrictions were costing the economy £650million a week.
The Daily Mail put these five questions to Downing Street yesterday but has so far not had a response1 - Why has Britain failed to introduce an airport coronavirus testing regime when more than 30 countries worldwide have done so? 2 - Why can’t we bring in two-step testing when the Government’s own scientists say it could detect the vast majority of cases and slash quarantine? 3 - When will the Government commit to making a decision on introducing such a scheme? 4 - Why have ministers not even been to visit Heathrow’s ready-to-go testing facility? 5 - How can the Government claim that Britain will become a global trading nation after Brexit when the airline industry is crippled by quarantine?
On a visit to Solihull in the West Midlands, Mr Johnson said a single test on arrival would detect only 7 per cent of cases, adding: ‘So 93 per cent of the time you could have a real false sense of security, a false sense of confidence when you arrive and take a test.
‘That’s why the quarantine system that we have has got to be an important part of our repertoire, of our toolbox, in fighting Covid.’
Industry leaders said this disregarded official research suggesting a second test after five days would catch 85 per cent of cases, and 96 per cent after eight days.
Former Brexit secretary Mr Davis claimed the quarantine policy had been based on ‘guesswork from the beginning’.
‘If you have to have a quarantine, you can reduce your timescale to less than five days,’ he told the BBC’s Week in Westminster.
‘For most people, it’s manageable. But two weeks for a factory worker or two weeks for somebody who works in a garage, who works as a salesman or saleswoman and in a store, that’s crippling for many of my less well-off constituents.’
Mr Grayling, a former transport secretary, told the Commons: ‘The industry is suffering badly in the current crisis, and the level of job losses is profoundly concerning. It is really important that we get the transatlantic routes going again.’
Mr Maynard, who was the aviation minister until February, said: ‘The Government needs to introduce testing. Quarantine is causing immense complications for holidaymakers and the travel sector and I congratulate the Daily Mail for leading the charge on this issue.’
Another former aviation minister, Miss Villiers, said: ‘There is great anxiety among Conservative backbenchers because we know so many businesses in our constituencies will go under without support for aviation.’
The Mail’s call for airport testing has received the backing of almost every airline and airport boss in the country. The Department for Transport is also being lobbied by US businesses and airlines desperate to reopen ‘economic artery’ routes across the Atlantic.
Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye told the BBC’s World at One: ‘We’ve got to avoid this becoming an unemployment pandemic.’
A Department for Transport spokesman said financial help had been given to the aviation sector and work was being done to assess how testing could be used to reduce the self-isolation period.
Logistics firms Swissport and Collinson, which have built a Covid testing facility at Heathrow, yesterday wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying the ‘efficacy and safety of Covid-19 testing on arrival is now beyond dispute’.
Shapps and Co will not even talk to us, says airport boss
By Tom Payne, Transport Correspondent for the Daily Mail
Aviation bosses last night accused ministers of ‘completely disengaging’ from the industry over airport coronavirus tests.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has not held an official meeting with Heathrow airport in recent weeks despite mounting evidence of an industry in crisis.
Derek Provan, the boss of Southampton, Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, said: ‘We are isolated as an industry and they are not interested in talking to us about testing.
‘We are trying to tell the Government we are experts in transport but they are completely disregarding us. Why can they not at least have a conversation about it?’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) has not held an official meeting with Heathrow airport in recent weeks despite mounting evidence of an industry in crisis
A senior aviation source said that a fortnight ago, as criticism of the quarantine policy mounted, the Department for Transport ‘stopped all engagement with the industry – this was a crazy move given the severity of the crisis’.
The source added: ‘Many in the industry are very angry at the lack of engagement. It has been a wall of silence.’
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, is in regular contact with Mr Shapps but has told of his frustration at the lack of official meetings to discuss testing.
He has pointed out that the boss of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris has had numerous official meetings with the transport minister in France, where airport testing is in place and passenger numbers are recovering.
Pressure is now mounting on Mr Shapps to hold urgent crisis talks with Airlines UK and the Airport Operators Association, the trade bodies representing Britain’s aviation sector, as well as Heathrow.
Heathrow said: ‘We urge all decision makers to start more effective engagement to ensure the right and safe solution is found.’
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: