5 JULY 2021
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Huw Merryman (47), the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle, has been Chair of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee from January 2020, having been a member since September 2015 soon after he was elected to the House. He studied law at Durham University before qualifying as a barrister. His last legal role was as Managing Director of a team of lawyers tasked with unwinding the Lehman Brothers' European estate following the financial services firm's collapse in 2008. He has proved to be an astute leader of a non-partisan group during one of the most extraordinary Parliaments of all time.
On 23 June, hundreds of pilots, cabin crew and travel agents gathered in England, Scotland and Wales in a Travel Day of Action. Their message was clear: the Government must support a safe return to international travel in time for the peak summer period.
For every person who attended, there were hundreds more across the country with depressingly similar stories of how the Covid pandemic had devasted the industry they are proud to represent. Having met many of those who descended on Westminster, I got the real sense that while the sector may currently be on its knees, it is both raring and ready to get back to work. I was touched by their overwhelming positivity about and pride in their industry.
No sector has been hit as hard by the pandemic as international travel. Worth more than £37 billion a year to the economy in ordinary times, outbound travel supports the employment of over half a million people across the UK. Since the beginning of the pandemic, however, output in the aviation sector has plummeted by 90%, with 5,000 jobs being lost every month. In total, more than 195,000 travel jobs have been lost since March 2020.
The Transport Select Committee, which I chair, has consistently warned that the Government has been too cautious in its approach to restarting international travel. While recognising the importance of protecting public health, the failure to take full advantage of our vaccine dividend has seen the UK left behind as other countries open up to travel – inflicting yet more misery upon our beleaguered travel industry.
We have been quick out of the blocks in our vaccine rollout. More than 60% of the population has been double-jabbed, the vaccine is proven to be effective against all known Covid-19 variants, and research by Public Health England shows that immunisation reduces the chance of onward virus transmission by between 40% and 60%.
The data also tells us that travel to countries on the amber list is safe. Recent analysis of NHS Test and Trace figures for May and June show that just 89 of the more than 20,000 people who travelled to the UK from amber list destinations tested positive for Covid. For 151 of the previous 167 amber list countries, there were no positive cases registered at all.
Despite the UK being in arguably one of the strongest positions in the world to restart international travel, we are yet again lagging behind Europe in easing restrictions.
As Europeans flock to the beaches of the Mediterranean, UK holidaymakers are still being told not to travel to amber list countries. The recent additions of Malta, Madeira and the Balearic and Caribbean islands to the green list is a step in the right direction, but travel to 150 countries on the amber list remains unnecessarily difficult, especially considering the 90.4% of amber list countries that returned no positive Covid cases to the UK between May and June.
The Government must now both apply its own logic of using the data to admit that going abroad is safe for those who have had both jabs, and urgently give industry and passengers the certainty over restarting international travel that they crave and deserve.
For the domestic easing of lockdown restrictions, we have a clear roadmap, populated with data and dates. For international travel, we must have the same. A clear flightpath of what is going to happen, and when, and by what measure. This will provide the industry with the certainty they need to prepare for a full restart and will give passengers the clarity to book much deserved holidays with confidence.
We owe it to the pilots, cabin crew and travel agents who have sacrificed so much during the pandemic. The science is on our side. Restarting international travel this summer is within our grasp. All that is needed now is the political will and action to do so.
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
Jill Smith, Hanwell
Networking is what it is all about. Cromwell Green was perfect. There is nothing to beat a one-to-one introduction and a chat. Maybe a job?
Giles East, London
Mr Merryman seems to have grown into the job and it was a pleasure to meet him on Cromwell Green.