Monday 8 June 2020 3:04 pm

The quarantine isn't just absurd – it could be unlawful too

Priti Patel’s new quarantine, which comes into force today, has sparked fresh fury from Britons who brand the measures as “too little too late”.

I believe that the tardiness of these restrictions is by no means a clumsy error — it looks like a pricey, harmful stunt.

Back in March, the UK blindly followed other nations by going into lockdown, but our leaders failed to implement border controls when other European countries did so. Now, at the very moment when those nations are relaxing their rules, the UK finally decides to bring our imprisonment to the next level.

Read more: DEBATE: Should the government rethink its quarantine rules?

To most, this poor timing is nothing but another flaw in the government’s chaotic crisis response. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence.  As other nations begin to open their borders, the home secretary’s move could be construed as a devious attempt to keep UK citizens at home, to prevent overseas spending and prop up the UK’s domestic economy.

Along with a Judicial Review of the government’s lockdown measures, I am now looking at legal action against these travel restrictions. Not only are these measures deeply flawed, but there is evidence to suggest they are in fact unlawful. 

My opinion is shared by industry leaders, including British Airways’ Willie Walsh and Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, both of whom are rightly incensed by the government’s moves.

The primary outcome of this catastrophic quarantine will be to further devastate the aviation and travel industries, while doing nothing to safeguard public health. 

The absurdity (from the public health perspective) begins with the significant number of travelers exempt from the plans — such as workers in a range of industries, and people who frequently travel overseas for work. This means that thousands of potentially infectious people will be free to enter our country and spread the disease, while tourists visiting the UK or Brits returning from their holidays will be forced to isolate at home.

The law’s ridiculousness continues, however, as it allows all UK arrivals to use public transport to reach their place of quarantine. Once there, the potential Covid-carriers can live with others and even go out on a merry shopping trip. 

The law then assumes that they will actually comply with the regulations, against the terrifying possibility that they may be visited by a policeman and their non-compliance discovered.

And what of all this talk of “air bridges” and “travel corridors”? The idea is that work is underway to agree unrestricted travel to select other countries where infection rates are low (far lower than in Britain, of course). This looks like a thinly veiled attempt to hold some negotiating power over other nations. It makes no sense at all from a virus control point of view, and can only be explained as European brinkmanship.

Since lockdown began, our leaders have continued to remove the fundamental pillars that support our liberty in this sovereign isle. For millions of people — especially those with children of school age, exhausted from months of playing parent, teacher and friend — the only opportunity to go abroad has now been denied. 

Nobody will be booking a holiday if, on their return, they may be forced to self-isolate for 14 days — most working people do not have sufficient holiday entitlement for this luxury and not everyone can work from home. Once again, it is the most hard-working of Brits whose liberties are ruined most.

The effect of the travel regulations will be to virtually end all bookings of flights and trips abroad. Airlines, travel firms, retail outlets at airports, airline meal providers and caterers — these laws will ravage them all.

We must seriously question whether the home secretary has power under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to make these regulations. And the legal case against the quarantine on irrationality grounds is even stronger.

The government has called the laws restricting our liberty “proportionate”, but they are anything but. By exploring the only avenue available to protest and possibly prevent these measures — the courts — I am determined to make sure that such government overreach will never be allowed again.

Read more: Quarantine will hit the City’s vital connections

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Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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