Matt Hancock’s ‘Tough Border’ Policy Can’t Be Taken Seriously


Matt Hancock’s ‘Tough Border’ Policy Can’t Be Taken Seriously

Matt Hancock has announced further details on the government’s hotel quarantine scheme: from Monday, passengers travelling from ‘red list’ countries will be required to enter hotel quarantine at a cost of £1,750 per person.

The government says it is setting up one of the toughest border policies in the world. From the vantage point of an Australian working in UK public policy, it is difficult to take these claims seriously. East Asian countries, along with Australia and New Zealand, set up hotel quarantine in March and April last year. These have been applied to all, or nearly all, overseas arrivals. A year later, the UK is set to end up with only a partial quarantine system.

It is difficult to see how this system will keep new variants out of the UK entirely. As SAGE, the government’s group of scientific advisers, has reportedly told the government, there would be a time lag between a new variant arising and the government and its scientists detecting it, deciding it presents a threat to vaccine efforts and shutting down travel from the relevant country.

But even assuming the government’s goal is to reduce rather than stop the inflow of dangerous variants, Hancock’s announcement did little to address the many potential pitfalls in the government’s approach.

As a new Institute for Government paper sets out, the problem is no longer the delay in introducing the policy – it is the fact that the government’s proposed policy is full of gaps, some of which result from its decision to opt for a selective quarantine system than a full one. If the government cannot plug them, then its policy is likely to prove a costly failure – and end up being little more than expensive window dressing.

First among them is the difficulty sorting travellers who need to enter hotel quarantine from those who do not. Travellers from banned countries will arrive in the UK via third countries. How will the border officials be able to tell exactly which passengers arriving on a flight from, say, Amsterdam, started their journey in Dubai (on the red list) and which in the Netherlands?

Unless it has extensive information sharing arrangements already in place, the government will most likely have to rely on passenger honesty. A ten-day sentence in an airport hotel – at the sum of £1,750 – gives passengers plenty of incentive to be less than forthcoming, even if the government does threaten prison for providing false information.