Britain is not even in the “top bracket” of countries when it comes to Covid border restrictions, Keir Starmer has said, as Boris Johnson said he did not want to “cut this country off from the rest of the world”.
Boris Johnson was challenged at prime minister’s questions in the Commons over his claim that Britain has “one of the toughest regimes in the world”, which Starmer said did not stand up to the evidence, despite tougher measures including hotel quarantine announced on Tuesday.
“We know his home secretary disagrees with him. We know the health secretary disagrees with them. Oxford University keeps track of how tough border restrictions are in every country,” Starmer said.
Starmer said there were 33 countries around the world that have tougher restrictions thanthe United Kingdom, including Canada, Denmark, Japan, Israel, and others.
“In fact, they say we’re not even in the top bracket of countries with border restrictions, 50 days after we first discovered discovered the South African variant.”
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has announced a requirement for UK residents returning to England from 33 “red list” countries to pay £1,750 to quarantine for 10 days in government-designated hotels. The health secretary said on Tuesday those caught lying about their movements could be fined £10,000 or be jailed for 10 years.
Johnson said the government was far ahead of countries in Europe that did not have a hotel quarantine system. “On a normal day, this time of year, you can expect about 250,000 people to be arriving in this country, we’ve got it down to about 20,000 – 5,000 of whom are involved in bringing vital things into this country, such as medicines and food,” he said.
The prime minister suggested the measures could not be tougher unless Starmer wanted to “cut this country off from the rest of the world, which I think last week he said he didn’t want to do … I think that this policy is measured, it is proportional. It is getting tougher from Monday, I hope that he supports it.”
During their exchange, Starmer also pressed Johnson to announce support for businesses including rates relief ahead of the March budget, saying many businesses could not wait for the budget to plan ahead. He also said the government must urgently announce whether it would extend the eviction ban past 21 February.
Johnson appeared to suggest an extension was under consideration. “I’ve said repeatedly that what we will do in this government and throughout this pandemic is put our arms around the British people, support them throughout the pandemic and make sure that people are not unfairly evicted during the pandemic,” he said. “That is what we will do.”
The prime minister also appeared to hint that more details about extensions of support could come when the prime minister sets out a roadmap for a lifting of restrictions on 22 February, when Starmer asked if furlough would be extended beyond April.
“I think most people in this country are aware that we’re going through a very serious pandemic in which rates of infection have been certainly brought down to the efforts of the British people,” Johnson said. “In just a few days we will be setting out a roadmap for the way out of this pandemic, a roadmap that I hope the right honourable gentleman and his colleagues will support.
“Their support, as we know, tends to be a transitory thing. One week we have it, next week we don’t, but he won’t have to contain himself for very long.”