The news we were all waiting for last week: Grant Shapps announced that from August 2nd, except France, fully vaccinated people travelling from the US or EU would be free to enter the UK from an amber-list country without having to quarantine. This was yesterday, and we have all seen the heart-warming photos of families finally being reunited after a long time apart.
For far too long we have been separated by our loved ones and can now revel in the success of the vaccine and the boldness of the government in lifting travel restrictions. Having immigrated to the UK myself, I fully appreciate the magnitude of what this decision will mean to our residents who have been unable to unite with international friends and family. Not only will it reunite loved ones, but the government’s move will also greatly stimulate the economy.
Businesses will benefit from increased trade, the travel and tourism industry will bounce back, and our vibrant cities will no longer be overlooked by those forced to change destination to Europe instead. Balancing these strides forward with the latest scientific data is the best way to navigate our route out of the pandemic, bring back normalcy and stimulate economic recovery. In reigniting international trade, Britain can further cement its ties with our European neighbours and friends in the US.
Whilst senior officials have stated that there is a “clear risk to public health” by allowing fully vaccinated Europeans into the country due to concerns over lower quality vaccines, Johnson has been quick to mitigate these concerns. To do so, he has amended the changes in travel restrictions to pertain only to vaccines authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Clearly, those arguing that this in an ill-thought-out policy move have failed to look at the details, and anyone that believes in the merits of vaccines should be welcoming the decision.
Other concerns suggest that the paper vaccine certificates issued in the United States are easily forged, compared to the UK and Europe’s digital passes. Whilst the foreign secretary nor I can guarantee that international travellers will not present falsified vaccination certificates, I agree with Dominic Raab that the “active co-operation” and high levels of trusts that exists between our countries will permit any possible issues to be managed quickly. Beyond this, any risks posed from falsified documentation do not appear to outweigh the numerous benefits of easing travel restrictions.
We have reached a point in the UK now where herd immunity is allowing us to take back our freedoms and we should all be confident that increased travel will not endanger this. The government will of course continue to be guided by the latest scientific data, but thanks to our world-leading domestic vaccination programme we’re able to look to the future and start to rebuild key transatlantic routes with the US while further cementing ties with our European neighbours.
The only issue I wish to raise in response to the Transport Secretary’s announcement is that travel restrictions are being eased as part of a unilateral policy. It is time for increased pressure to be placed on the Biden administration to allow UK citizens to travel to the US and reciprocate the UK’s goodwill. So far, the US-UK transatlantic travel taskforce, whose mandate is to review border restrictions between the two countries, has failed to engender any shift in US policy regarding travel in the opposite direction.
Whilst Grant Shapps “expects” the UK’s decision to be reciprocated and diplomatic pressure is said to be strengthening, concrete reassurance is needed in the absence of plans for the two nations to open their borders simultaneously. The newly sovereign Britain cannot allow the United States to take advantage of it and must be confident in pushing for reciprocated measures. Afterall, the UK has a greater share of its population vaccinated than the US and has seen falling cases for over a week now.
Nevertheless, the government’s move should be welcomed. It is not a “hawkish” policy, but instead a sensible decision that, if delayed longer, would have serious repercussions for British industry and recovery. If we fail to capitalise on the freedoms that the vaccine has granted us, then we will have wasted our investments and sacrifices whilst our neighbours indulge both socially and economically.