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Labour piles on the pressure over rules for people double jabbed outside the UK

20 July 2021, 15:05 | Updated: 20 July 2021, 15:55

The Labour MP wrote to the Transport Secretary
The Labour MP wrote to the Transport Secretary. Picture: Alamy
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Labour has written to the Transport Secretary urging him to provide 'clarity' for those double jabbed outside the UK amid continued confusion.

LBC has exclusively gained access to a letter from Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon to his Conservative counterpart.

Writing to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Mr McMahon questioned progress on 'vaccine passports' for the double jabbed asking what progress has been made in "assessing how many countries accept the NHS app as proof of someone’s Covid or vaccine status?"

Mr McMahon also questioned if any assessment had been made over the rules for UK citizens living overseas, "particularly those who have already received an approved vaccine outside of the UK?"

The letter comes after changes to the rules for vaccinated travellers returning to the UK which will see only those who have received their jabs “under the UK vaccination programme” able to travel from amber list countries without the requirement to quarantine.

For example, double-jabbed travellers arriving from countries such as the USA or Israel will still have to quarantine even though they have received vaccinations approved and in use by the NHS.

There has been no official comment from No 10 yet as to why the UK does not recognise identical jabs administered by other countries.

Fully vaccinated adults returning from France to the UK are still required to quarantine after a U-turn by the British government on Friday evening.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has previously said the government will announce changes to quarantine plans for those who have been fully vaccinated abroad in the coming weeks.

On Monday Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng stood by the policy which means businessmen and women who are vaccinated abroad will have to quarantine after No10 changed the rules on arrivals from amber list countries.

Labour demanded answers on the issue, with the shadow health secretary telling LBC he raised it months ago and the government hadn't tackled the problem, adding that it was an issue in the system "that needs to be resolved."

Appearing on Call the Cabinet on LBC, Kwasi Kwarteng was asked: "Why is the UK government forcing people who are double jabbed abroad to quarantine for 10 days when they come to the UK? Other countries accept the NHS vaccination, why don't we accept ones from other countries?"

Mr Kwarteng replied: "We've got to be very cautious.

We're very protective of communities here."We want to be extra safe so that people can be protected here.Nick replies: "These could be businessmen and women coming in?"

Jonathan Ashworth told Tom Swarbrick on Swarbrick on Sunday it appeared the issue was an anomaly in “the system.”

He said: “This is exactly one of the points I raised three or four months ago. That needs to be resolved in our system.

He said he didn’t know why the situation hadn’t yet been resolved and said: “It’s curious isn’t it.”

On Monday Labour used an Urgent Question in the Commons to quiz the government over continued confusion relating to the travel industry.

The Labour MP told the Commons: "Again the Government's travel rules have been thrown into chaos and confusion. The British people, the travel industry and members of this House are running out of patience."

On changes to travel arrangements for France, he added: "We've seen reports that say the high rates of the Beta variant are not in fact in mainland France but the Indian Ocean island of Reunion - 6,000 miles away. Can he confirm if this is the case?

"And why have a traffic light system if there are different rules for countries that happen to be in the same category?"

Mr McMahon asked for the Government to publish the full data on a country-by-country basis before asking: "Can he comment on reports over the weekend that travellers from Spain and Greece may well be subjected to the same restrictions as travellers from France?"

Transport minister Robert Courts attacked Labour's position rather than answer the questions.

He said: "I will take no lectures from (Mr McMahon) on confusion and uncertainty, and the irony of the Labour Party calling our position uncertain and confusing won't, I'm sure, be lost on the House."

Full text of the letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps:

Dear Grant,

I am again writing to you regarding international travel. I was disappointed you were not able to attend the House yesterday to make a statement yourself. Unfortunately the minister failed to answer any of the substantive questions I raised during my Urgent Question.

I was dismayed to see once again last week changes to the traffic light system – including the apparent creation of a brand new ‘Amber Plus’ category - announced late on Friday, via press release, with no opportunity for scrutiny by MPs.

The minister was unable to say whether Spain and Greece were due to be added to this new category imminently, as per media reports, or indeed clarify the assessment process surrounding this.

Labour has repeatedly asked for the country-by-country data informing the Government’s traffic light system to be published, so that travellers and the industry could forward plan and know the direction of travel for each country.

The travel industry cannot hope to recover from the blow it’s been dealt by the pandemic unless it and the public are given some clarity and confidence to book.

It’s clear that Government must hold the data informing traffic light risk assessments for each country, but is choosing to only publish an extremely limited selection.

Can I once again ask why that is, and why France is not mentioned in the limited data currently available?

Vaccine passports

As I have previously made clear, Labour wants to see the Government work with international partners to introduce a bi-lateral international vaccine passport scheme, but this is yet to happen.

Can you confirm what progress has been made in assessing how many countries accept the NHS app as proof of someone’s Covid or vaccine status?

Further to this, has any assessment been made of the rules applying to UK citizens living overseas, particularly those who have already received an approved vaccine outside of the UK?

Cost of tests

Can you confirm whether testing capacity exists in the NHS system to allow for the required PCR tests for travel at walk-in centres?

As I have said previously, the information on providers currently available on the Government’s website is often inaccurate or out of date.

Can you commit to ensuring the system works for the consumers who need tests and not just the private providers profiting from them?

Sector support

The Government’s reckless decision to abandon most Covid protections could well have an adverse effect for those going abroad.

The USA has already added the UK to its list of highest risk countries. Can I once again ask what assessment has been made of the likelihood that the UK will be put on other countries’ red lists in the coming weeks?

As I reiterated once again in the House, the Government has failed to adequately support the aviation sector, which supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Why are we still waiting for the sector-specific package of financial support the Chancellor promised nearly a year ago – particularly when many major firms are expecting to be dealt further blows through the summer thanks to the Government’s refusal to be straight with the public?

Yours sincerely,

Jim