The government’s “unforgivable recklessness” with its approach to Britain’s borders during the pandemic is responsible for the surge in the variant first identified in India and the delay in lifting Covid restrictions, Labour has said.
Dubbing the Delta variant as “the Johnson variant”, the shadow home secretary said Boris Johnson’s “negligence and incompetence” had left the country facing “weeks more of restrictions — and yet more uncertainty” at a speech on Tuesday.
The remarks from Nick Thomas-Symonds came after the prime minister announced his decision to postpone Stage four of the roadmap out of lockdown until 19 July after a recent surge in infections and concern of the transmissibility of the Delta variant.
Delivering a withering verdict of the government’s border policy, the Labour frontbencher said ministers made “grave errors” and criticised the “unforgivable recklessness from the Conservatives on our border protections”.
Referring the decision to postpone the easing of remaining Covid restrictions, Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “This delay is happening because a new variant first identified overseas was allowed to take hold in this country.
“There is one reason and one reason only that this happened: lax border measures by Conservative ministers”.
He added: “They have allowed the Delta variant, first identified in India to take hold here. Let’s call it what it is — let’s put the blame where it should lie. In this country — it’s the Johnson variant.
“The prime minister’s negligence and incompetence, his refusal to take tough decisions have left Britain facing weeks more of restrictions — and yet more uncertainty.”
“It is a crystal clear metaphor for how Boris Johnson and his government work: they spend so much time posturing and posing over being tough at the borders, yet when it was a matter of keeping our country safe and the variants out, they failed.”
Citing the examples of Australia and New Zealand — both countries have effectively operated a closed border policy since the onset of the pandemic — Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “We are an island country… our border protections should have been one of our natural strengths. Instead, it has been one of our greatest weaknesses.”
During his speech, Mr Thomas-Symonds also insisted that ministers must do “everything possible to prevent a further delay” of the relaxation of remaining Covid restrictions — now pencilled in for 19 July.
He said this must include scrapping the “amber list” to bring clarity to the trail system and ensure passengers from different categories of countries are not mixing with others in airport terminals and risking transmission of the virus.
Responding to journalists’ questions, the shadow home secretary also suggested overseas holidays would be unlikely this summer.
“I like everybody else wants to see international travel back as soon as possible, but if you’re asking me the question as of today, do I think that summer holidays are likely then I think the answer to that has to be no,” he said.
“But if we are going to grow that green list, which is firmly what I believe we need to do, then we have to have these measures in place. We have to move those countries on the amber list to the red list.”