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10 years Prison For Lying at the UK Border

February 10, 2021

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has defended the introduction of 10-year jail sentences for those who lie about their travel at the UK border as "appropriate". Under new measures due to come into force from Monday, UK and Irish residents arriving in England from 33 "red list" countries will have to pay up to £1,750 to quarantine for 10 days in government-managed hotel rooms. As part of the enforcement of the new action, anyone who tries to conceal they had been in a "red list" country in the 10 days before their arrival will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years - a penalty which has caused concern among some MPs and former judges (reports Sky News' Greg Heffer).

Mr Shapps explained how the fresh restrictions are being introduced due to the government's concerns about new coronavirus variants being imported, or becoming more widespread, in the UK.

"What we're dealing with now are the variants and, with variants, we cannot risk it in these final stages - where we've got the vaccine rolled out - that we might end up with a difficulty from variations, although we think so far that we'll be able to take care of them through the vaccines," he told Sky News.

"And, because of that, we think... things like prison sentences for lying about being in one of those red list countries are appropriate."

Image - Heathrow Airport

Mr Shapps said that travel - at between 16,000 and 20,000 people a day - was 95% down on last year's level, with less than 1,000 a day arriving from "red list" countries. The government has more than 5,000 hotel rooms immediately available for people to quarantine in, he said. "By next week, when people will have to pay to do this, £1,750 package on top of their costs of getting here via an indirect route, I think we'll find the numbers are actually pretty small," the transport secretary added. Mr Shapps also cast doubt on whether Britons would be able to enjoy a summer holiday this year, either in the UK or abroad, amid the concerns about new COVID variants. "I'm afraid I can't give you a definitive 'will there or will there not be' the opportunity to take holidays this next year, either at home or abroad," he said.

Labour has criticised the government's new border measures as too limited and called for a more comprehensive hotel quarantine system for international arrivals - not just those from "red list" countries.

Shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, also told Sky News he was "very concerned" about the introduction of long prison sentences for those who try to deceive border officials. He backed the need for a "significant penalty" for lying on a Passenger Locator Form, describing it as "a very serious thing to do" which has "profound consequences".

But Mr Thomas-Symonds demanded the government to produce more details on the punishment, including how it interacts with existing laws and whether there would be a "sliding scale" for lesser offences.

"Crucially, what we can't do is allow an announcement of an eye-catching figure on a prison sentence to detract or distract away from what is actually required here, which is that comprehensive hotel quarantine system that needs to be introduced," he told Sky News.

Government-issued advice for travellers, applied prior to the introduction of mandatory quarantine.

Former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve described the threat of 10-year jail terms as "entirely disproportionate". And former Supreme Court judge Lord Jonathan Sumption also questioned Health Secretary Matt Hancock's announcement of long jail terms for lying about travel.

"Ten years is the maximum sentence for threats to kill, non-fatal poisoning or indecent assault," he wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph. "Does Mr Hancock really think that non-disclosure of a visit to Portugal is worse than the large number of violent firearms offences or sexual offences involving minors, for which the maximum is seven years?"

In Scotland, all international travellers arriving into Scotland - not just those from "red list" countries - will have to stay in a quarantine hotel. There are currently no international flights operating to Wales or Northern Ireland.

KJM Today Opinion

The Aviation Oracle

Just when it seemed that there was vaccine-bolstered light at the end of the tunnel for the beleaguered travel industry, yet more setbacks have been handed down.

Firstly, UK nationals will be imprisoned in their own country for two weeks, and forced to pay £1,750 for the privilege of being imprisoned, simply as the result of having the audacity to want to come home from a 'red list' country. Ramping up the ante, it was then announced that anyone who lies about having been in a such a country on the immigration form faces the prospect of a £10,000 fine or 10 years in prison. While not condoning lies, its difficult to see how this restriction can be detected if a traveller books non-connecting flights through a safer country. Nevertheless, it would take a brave person to chance the ramifications of being caught.

Sadly the Health Secretary then piled insult on top of top of injury by saying that travel restrictions – the very right of a citizen to leave their own country – will not be relaxed until the vaccines are demonstrably effective not just against strains of the virus circulating in the UK, but would be required to be shown effective against ALL variations of the virus. That statement in itself was damning for the future of travel, as it is simply impossible to prove a vaccine will be effective against all strains – viruses have always evolved and there will always be another new one around the corner.

Empty Airports continue to be cleaned, despite there being fewer and fewer passengers to use them.

Heathrow Airport

While these new restrictions might seem challenging enough for an industry that has already been badly hit for an entire year during the COVID-19 crises, more was to come.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary himself, going against the Prime Minister’s previous suggestions that the success of the vaccine program meant people could look forward to a summer holiday, has now pronounced that people should not book any summer holidays at the moment – certainly not abroad, and not even in the UK. With this, the positive vibes coming from package tour companies such as TUI in recent days seem almost certain to be reversed as ministerial guidance sinks in.

Sunny days watching the planes go by - never mind going on one - is becoming an ever-distant memory

Kevan James

Make no mistake – the travel industry has been brought to its knees as a result of government policy, with well-known names having collapsed and hundreds of thousands of loyal employees losing their jobs. And right on the cusp of an uptick that was already being reported by major holiday firms, a government minister has sabotaged the rebound by effectively telling people not to give these firms money.

'Do not travel by public transport unless it is essential' is one thing. But since when has it been within the remit of an elected member of parliament to tell the population not to give their money to legitimate, trading businesses?

The travel industry is in a very precarious position right now – it desperately needs a good summer in order to start to rebound from the year-long slump during which very little revenue was earned. A week ago, there was an air of forthcoming optimism that things would rebound – now some organisations are suggesting that 2021 could be worse for the industry than 2020. Instead of defining a way forward though, the government seems determined to keep the hits coming. Remember too that the ongoing onslaught of new rules and guidance is not being debated and accepted by our legislative body – the changes are being imposed without in-depth scrutiny by ministers who are not being compelled to justify or account for their decisions.

It seems like the government is hell bent on ignoring the travel industry and the effects its policies have on staff who have already lost – or will soon lose – their livelihoods. The ongoing procession of new laws, rules, directives, and issues will have massive and potentially hugely adverse ramifications for the airline and wider tourism industry – and will have impacts from which recovery will become even more challenging than before.

So, the bigger question is: how and when are the restrictions going to be lifted, and how can we ensure there is a travel industry still there when that happens? “Only when we have adequately protected the entire country from an ever-mutating virus” simply is not a viable answer, because there is a very real possibility that might never be achieved. It has always been the case we face a stark choice: accept the almost complete destruction of our travel industry, or learn to live with an element of risk that the virus will pose for years to come. The imperative then is for the government to accept this, and put in place a plan that enables the industry to re-emerge in a managed fashion before it is totally devastated.

It isn’t going to be long before we pass the point of no return.

© The Aviation Oracle 2021

Kevan James

The idea of spending ten years in prison as suggested by Grant Shapps is a prospect that is truly chilling. Only in the most oppressive dictatorships is such a view held. As has been pointed out above, it is an entirely over-the-top suggestion and can only have been promoted as a blatant attempt to frighten people into submission.

Whilst the actions of other countries and their governments are obviously relevant, my concern is what happens here; I am not from another country, I do not live in one. I am from the United Kingdom and I live and work in the United Kingdom.

As a voting citizen of the UK, with all the rights (and yes, the responsibilities too, including not lying about where I may have been) I reject utterly Grant Shapp's outlandish suggestion of ten years inside for not telling the truth about one's journey. At a time when real crime seems to be running rampant and going undetected and unpunished, it is the proposal of the deranged.

Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, Grant Shapps and the rest of them, on both sides of the House of Commons, are responsible to citizens like me - and you. We are their bosses; not the other way around. By merely floating this sovietesque and grotesque idea, never mind pursuing it into effect, Shapps has surrendered all rights to hold office - as a government minister and as an MP.

He and those others who have supported the UK's descent into a totalitarian state, regardless of party, must be deselected in time for the next general election, an election which must be held, on time as as it is scheduled to be. We, the people, must expect, insist and demand that it is held. Because if we don't and it isn't, what will come next?

© Kevan James 2021

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