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Tories slammed for failing to close British borders to Covid

Home Secretary Priti Patel claims the Prime Minister dismissed her proposals to close Britain at the start of the pandemic

by Lamiat Sabin
Parliamentary reporter

BORIS JOHNSON’S government was condemned for its incompetence today after Priti Patel claimed that she had unsuccessfully proposed the closure of Britain’s borders at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Home Secretary said that she had “advocated” shutting borders to incoming travellers in March last year, but the Prime Minister had dismissed the idea.

Her comments, made during an online Conservative Friends of India meeting on Tuesday evening, broke with collective Cabinet responsibility and nullify her defence of the government’s decision not to close borders, as many other countries did.

Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds described her confession as “shocking.”

He said: “Priti Patel’s admission, coupled with the complete lack of strategy for testing of travellers, means that the government has left our doors open to the virus and worrying mutations.

“Ministers now need to urgently review and overhaul border policy, whilst taking responsibility for the huge damage their incompetence has done to our national safety and security.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer quizzed Mr Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions on why he had overruled Ms Patel, but he evaded the issue and chose instead to criticise Labour’s policy on border controls, going on to claim that Britain had “instituted one of the toughest border regimes in the world” in requiring travellers to have a negative test before arrival and self-isolate for a period of time.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We have strong measures at the border in place which are vital as we roll out the vaccine.”

But lockdown measures will be in place for a while yet as the vaccine roll-outs have yet to do enough “heavy lifting,” according to chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

Britain recorded 1,820 deaths linked to Covid-19 today, setting yet another grim record.

Professor Calum Semple of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises ministers, said that he agreed it was “not the time to relax” rules and some measures may be required next winter.

The government has pledged to administer the first of two doses of the vaccine to 15 million of the most vulnerable people, including the elderly and front-line health and social care staff, by February 15, but Ms Patel has warned that there would be “inconsistencies” in vaccine supply due to changes at Pfizer’s factory in Belgium.

Today, the British Medical Association criticised the government for a lack of transparency on vaccine supply, which is affecting the speed at which jabs are given.

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