Covid-19: Johnson’s 10-year jail plan for lying about travel branded ‘stupid’

PM facing resistance from Conservatives and opposition over ‘disproportionate’ penalty

Labour leader Keir Starmer: ‘Are we really going to lock people up for 10 years for being dishonest about the fact that they’ve been to Portugal?’ Photograph: Jessica Taylor/AFP via Getty Images

Labour leader Keir Starmer: ‘Are we really going to lock people up for 10 years for being dishonest about the fact that they’ve been to Portugal?’ Photograph: Jessica Taylor/AFP via Getty Images

 

Boris Johnson’s plan to jail people who lie about visiting coronavirus hotspots for up to 10 years is facing growing resistance from within his Conservative party and from the opposition.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, said the maximum penalty for providing incorrect information when arriving into Britain was so disproportionate that it would never be applied.

“I’ve prosecuted many cases that have ended in a 10-year sentence and I know an empty threat when I see it. The effectiveness of what happens at the border is to do with testing and quarantining but pretending there’s going to be a 10-year sentence, when in reality I don’t think there is, isn’t really helping anyone,” he said.

Downing Street said on Wednesday that travellers who conceal the fact that they have visited one of 33 countries on a coronavirus red list would be charged under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, so MPs will not get a vote on the new measures.

Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, said the proposal “demeaned” health secretary Matt Hancock, who announced it this week.

“Are we really going to lock people up for 10 years for being dishonest about the fact that they’ve been to Portugal? By all means give them a fine, give them a hefty fine, a few thousand pounds. Are you really seriously suggesting, secretary of state, that we’ve got enough prison capacity to start locking up 19-year-old silly kids for 10 years? What a stupid thing to say, I mean a really stupid thing to say. That demeans his office and his position around the cabinet table,” he said.

Repeated vaccinations

Mr Johnson said on Wednesday that people should expect to receive repeated coronavirus vaccinations to keep pace with mutations. A study this week found that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may be ineffective against the South African variant, one of a number of mutations that are present in Britain.

Mr Johnson said the government was working with pharmaceutical companies to ensure a supply of vaccines that would be tweaked to deal with new variants.

“I think we will have to get used to the idea of vaccinating and re-vaccinating in the autumn as we come to face these new variants,” he told the House of Commons.

At a press conference in Downing Street later, chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said that although current vaccines are effective against the Kent variant that has swept through Britain in recent weeks, other variants needed to be studied closely.

“The Bristol variant has got one of the changes that the South African variant has got as well. It is not surprising that it has happened and it will happen elsewhere as well. In getting that variant it does make it slightly more likely to look different to the immune system so we need to watch out for it. We need to keep on top and need to keep testing the vaccine effects in this situation,” he said.