The United Kingdom is nothing if not a trading nation. For centuries our island status has made us a leader in world commerce, and that continues to this day.
Last year alone, foreign nationals made almost nine million business trips here, a staggering total. Those visits generated jobs, investment and prosperity for our country – prosperity that will be doubly important after Brexit.
By the same token, millions of British businessmen and women have grown used to travelling the world in pursuit of new opportunities, while millions more flights are taken for holidays and leisure.
Heathrow has already got its testing stations in place and is willing to organise staff and even home-tests for its travellers. All this could be put in place almost immediately – if only the Government would change its mind
Ever since Freddie Laker pioneered no-frills air travel in the 1970s, this country has been at the heart of the low-cost travel industry. Britons made more than 58 million overseas holiday trips last year, spending some £43 billion in the process.
All of this has been shattered by the Government’s clumsy quarantine policy.
Such crude measures might have been understandable had they been introduced at the very start of the crisis, before we’d imported Covid-19 infections in large numbers from France, Spain and Italy.
And to be fair, some countries have imposed such measures, limiting the number of foreign visitors, with great success.
But we introduced the policy as late as June, many months into the crisis, locking the stable door long after the horse had bolted.
It was obvious even then that blanket quarantines would be the worst of all worlds.
The way the policy has been implemented – chopping and changing which countries are in or out on a weekly basis – has maximised the economic uncertainty and damage. If it continues, the already huge job losses in the travel sector will increase still further, while airlines and travel companies will go bankrupt. An empty looking Heathrow Airport is seen above
Many of us feared that forcing people to isolate themselves at home after returning from holiday would do maximum economic damage but give minimum protection against infection. Badly needed holidays would be wrecked.
But for factory workers, shop assistants and garage mechanics who cannot comfortably work from home, it would also cost them income and possibly even their jobs.
And so it has proved.
The way the policy has been implemented – chopping and changing which countries are in or out on a weekly basis – has maximised the economic uncertainty and damage.
If it continues, the already huge job losses in the travel sector will increase still further, while airlines and travel companies will go bankrupt.
The damage will not stop there.
Companies that trade internationally and which rely on customers and salesmen crossing our borders will face almost incredible difficulty. And this will cripple the international trade which is so important to us when the Brexit process is completed later this year and we stand on our own two feet.
We are risking self-strangulation of our economy and we have become a laughing stock to our competitors.
How, then, did we get into this ridiculous position? Ministers tell us that they base their policy ‘on the science’. They have my sympathy.
The scientific advice during this crisis has been about as reliable as a weathervane in a whirlwind, changing from moment to moment, and almost never right.
But I suspect the real reason behind the chaos and ensuing damage might be rather less respectable.
When the policy was first introduced in June, it was reported in some knowledgeable quarters that it was actually being driven by the opinions of focus groups and by polling data gathered by Dominic Cummings at No 10.
I hope this is not true. Because if it were, it would be a disgrace given the savage economic consequences arising from it now. So what is the alternative?
What should we have done instead? Perhaps more importantly, what should we do now? The answer is straightforward.
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