The stiff penalty of 10-year sentences for trying to conceal travel from a “red list” country has caused concern among some MPs and former judges
Grant Shapps, the UK’s Transport Secretary, has defended the introduction of giving 10-year jail sentences to those who have lied about their travel across the UK border as “appropriate”.
Under new measures due to come into force from Monday, UK and Irish residents who are arriving into 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.
“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,” Mr Shapps said to 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.”
This comes after thousands of extra COVID tests are being rolled out in Manchester after a mutation of the Kent variant was found in the city. Four people from two unconnected households were found with the E484K mutation, Manchester City Council said, and 10,000 extra tests will now be distributed.
Mr Shapps has said that travel, at between 16,000 and 20,000 people a day, was 95% down from last year’s level, with less than 1,000 people a day arriving from the “red list” countries.
The government has over 5,000 hotel rooms that are immediately available for people to be quarantining 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 has also cast doubt on whether or not the British public would be able to enjoy a summer holiday this year, either in the UK or abroad, amid the concerns about new variants of COVID-19.
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 has demanded that the government produce more details on the punishment for lying at the border, including how it would interact with existing laws and whether there would be a “sliding scale” for any 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.
The former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve has described the threat of 10-year jail terms as “entirely disproportionate”.
This comes after the cold weather is set to be carrying into this week with winds, which made Sunday feel sub-zero in some places, to continue into Monday. The Met Office says that it has been “bitterly cold” as a result of the strong easterly winds coming from Ukraine and the Black Sea.
Lord Jonathan Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge, has also questioned Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s recent announcement of the long jail terms for lying about travel into the UK.
“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?”