Dominic Raab defends the move to reintroduce restrictions, as it’s revealed two ministers are currently on holiday in Spain.
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The foreign secretary has defended the reintroduction of coronavirus quarantine measures for Britons returning from Spain, telling Sky News: “We took the decision as swiftly as we could.”
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Dominic Raab said the government received data on Friday which showed a “big jump” in COVID-19 cases across the country.
Mr Raab said ministers looked at the data on Saturday afternoon and acted as quickly as they could, with the announcement made on Saturday evening.
“And we can’t make apologies for doing so,” the foreign secretary said.
“We must be able to take swift, decisive action, particularly in relation to localised, or internationally in relation to Spain or a particular country, where we see we must take action.”
Mr Raab said there was no guarantee that other countries will not be removed from the government’s “safe list”, saying: “As we’ve found with Spain, we can’t give a guarantee.”
The move means people face the prospect of two weeks in isolation upon their return to the UK.
The quarantine affects Britons coming back from mainland Spain, the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa) and the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera).
The Scottish government lifted its quarantine rules on Spain this week but will now reimpose them, with Northern Ireland and Wales also following suit.
The news has left thousands of holidaymakers angry and disappointed.
Britons have been advised against all but essential travel to mainland Spain by the Foreign Office, but this does not apply to the Balearics or Canaries.
Holiday company Tui has responded by cancelling all holidays to mainland Spain up to and including 9 August, but those who wish to travel to the Balearic and Canary Islands will be able to travel as planned from Monday.
British Airways and easyJet both expressed “disappointment” with the decision, but said flights would not be immediately affected.
BA added that customers who no longer wished to travel to Spain could contact them to claim a voucher for future travel, while easyJet has said customers can transfer their flights without a change fee or get a voucher for the value of their booking.
Mr Raab said he understood the move would be “disruptive for those going through this who are in Spain or have been considering going”.
But he added: “We must though be able to take swift, decisive action to protect the UK because we’ve made such progress in getting the virus down and prevent the virus re-taking hold in the UK.”
Asked why holidaymakers were not given an earlier warning that a reintroduction of the restrictions was likely, Mr Raab said the government had to be able to “gauge the data in real time”.
The decision was announced after Spain recorded more than 900 new coronavirus cases for two days running.
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But Spain’s ministry of foreign affairs said the situation in the country was “under control”, with outbreaks “localised, isolated and controlled”.
Madrid says it is in talks with the UK about exempting the Canary and Balearic islands.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sophy Ridge on Sunday the decision left holidaymakers “confused and distressed”.
'Absolutely devastated': Holidaymakers angry and confused over Spain travel U-turn
“I understand why they’ve made the decision but, of course, the way in which this decision has been made in the last 24 hours is frankly shambolic,” he said.
The government is asking employers to be “understanding” of workers who need to self-isolate.
Mr Raab said no employee should be penalised for doing so, telling Sky News: “We are changing the rules – the law is changed in relation to holidaymakers and travellers – and of course we expect employers show those employees, who will have to quarantine because of the law, the flexibility they need.
“If someone is following the law in relation to quarantine and self-isolating the way they should, they can’t have penalties taken against them.”
Mr Ashworth called for “clarity” from the government on whether those who are required to self-isolate will get financial support “if their employers refuse it them”.
He added: “The way in which this decision has been communicated is obviously causing anxiety.”
The swift announcement even caught out a government minister, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps now facing the prospect of self-isolating when he returns from Spain.
He flew there on Saturday morning to start his summer holiday.
“I think it shows you the risk for everyone,” Mr Raab said, when asked about the situation facing his cabinet colleague.
“I spoke to Grant Shapps yesterday afternoon and it shows you that we’ve got swift measures that we can put in place.”
Asked what his reaction was, the foreign secretary replied: “Like anyone, I think he empathised with many other people going through that. But he recognised, of course, that we have to take these measures to protect the country.”
Mr Ashworth said: “You couldn’t make it up that Grant Shapps is over there on holiday in Spain when he is the transport secretary – I think that tells you everything about the sort of government approach to this.”
A second government minister has been affected – minister for small business Paul Scully is currently on holiday in Lanzarote.
A second government minister has been affected by the reintroduction of coronavirus quarantine measures for Britons returning from Spain.@scullyp, who is on holiday in Lanzarote, has posted these images on his Instagram story: pic.twitter.com/hgg2Oe3b0b
— Alan McGuinness (@Alan_McGuinness) July 26, 2020
Analysis: Were UK politicians behind the curve?
By Rob Powell, political correspondent
The foreign secretary says the government will not apologise for acting rapidly.
But the real question is whether politicians in all parts of the UK were behind the curve on the situation in Spain.
Infections began rising in the country earlier in the week, with journalists questioning Number 10 on Wednesday as to whether a ban on travelling to Spain would be brought back in.
The battered travel industry is despairing that ministers couldn’t have made the move just 24 hours earlier, before the weekend getaway.
There are questions for Nicola Sturgeon as well.
Spain was only taken off Scotland’s quarantine list on Monday, before the rules were tightened again last night.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has accused the first minister of a “major misjudgement” and says she shouldn’t have eased restrictions on the country at a time when infections were clearly on the up.