Quash Quarantine group set to take Government to court over restrictions

Charles Hymas
·6 min read
Heathrow, London, UK Travellers make most of free movement out of Heathrow Terminal 2 before coronavirus UK quarantine is put into effect on any return or air travel into the UK to try and slow down coronavirus infections being brought into the country - Jeff Gilbert
Heathrow, London, UK Travellers make most of free movement out of Heathrow Terminal 2 before coronavirus UK quarantine is put into effect on any return or air travel into the UK to try and slow down coronavirus infections being brought into the country - Jeff Gilbert

Boris Johnson’s quarantine policy is set to be decided in court with more than 500 travel and hospitality businesses expected on Monday to join a legal bid by airlines to reverse the restrictions.

A new group called Quash Quarantine, which includes major names such as hotelier Sir Rocco Forte, will announce how it plans to stop the policy in its tracks, with options including backing a judicial review or seeking its own injunction.

They claim the quarantine rule — which comes into force on Monday — is driven by politics rather than science, with one senior figure accusing the Prime Minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings of pursuing it as a “tactic” in Brexit negotiations.

Almost all arrivals into the UK must now self-isolate for 14 days, which the travel industry says will have a “catastrophic” impact on the sector and on the wider UK economy.

British Airways’ parent company IAG, Ryanair and Easyjet have already sent a “pre-action” letter to the Government, setting out why they believe the coronavirus quarantine policy is legally “wholly unjustified,” “disproportionate,” and “unfair.”

The move by the 500-plus travel and hospitality firms now makes legal action a near certainty, and means the Prime Minister faces an unprecedented wall of opposition to quarantine from industry.

Quash Quarantine, which also includes such big names as the Dorchester, The Goring, Claridges and Ritz hotels and some of the largest tour operators in Europe, will announce on Monday morning whether it is joining the BA action as an interested party or launching a separate legal bid.

Paul Charles, who is helping organise the campaign, said: “The options are either for us to take our own action or to join BA as an interested party.

"I have never seen such anger and determination as there is to remove this measure. It is just extraordinary. It is going to take a long time to rebuild relations between the travel and tourism sector and the Government. They are at rock bottom.

“The credibility of people like Grant Shapps has been called into question and the travel industry will never trust the DFT and Transport Secretary again.

“This comes from Dominic Cummings fighting a pro-Brexit policy. There is no doubt that is what is behind this. There is no scientific evidence.

“Dominic Cummings and Priti Patel are using this as a tactic within the EU negotiations to be able to prove to the EU how powerful the British consumer is to the European countries.

“By stopping them from going abroad this summer, they are hurting European economies because the British are the number one tourists market in Spain and Italy.”

The legal action is based on four counts which they say makes quarantine a “wholly unjustified and disproportionate restriction on people,” according to a legal letter sent by the airlines to the Government.

First, their lawyers said the requirement for 14 days self isolation was disproportionate because it was even more draconian than the seven days required of people actually suffering from the disease and the original “stay at home” lockdown rules.

Second, they said the Government’s own scientists — Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, and Professor Robert Dingwall, a member of Sage — judged the measures to be only effective  in restricting travel from countries with high rates of infection when cases in Britain were low. The opposite is true for many countries in Europe and beyond.

Third, they claimed they were unfair and discriminatory because of exemptions which mean ordinary travellers are penalised while international “commuters” who travel weekly to and from the UK are exempt.

Fourth, they identified differences in enforcement with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland allowed to decide their own regimes, none of which had been decided by Saturday, just 48 hours before quarantine will be introduced.

On Sunday, Scotland announced it would fine people £30 for failing to fill in the locator form, against £100 for England, and £480 for breaching self-isolation, versus £1,000 in England.

The Quash Quarantine group, which accounts for sales of more than £10 billion, found in a survey of its members that 71 per cent of owners and chief executives expected to make 60 per cent of their staff redundant if quarantine is not stopped in its tracks.

The business leaders believe that could equate to the loss of some 400,000 jobs across the travel and hospitality industry, with many more in sectors that will suffer a knock-on effect.  More than a quarter of the company leaders —28 per cent — said they might have to cease trading altogether if quarantine plans continue.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, undermined the case for quarantine last week when he said it was most effective when infection rates in the UK were lower than in other countries. In fact, the rate of infections is higher in the UK than in Europe, with more people dying of coronavirus in the UK than in the whole of the EU on some days.

On Sunday night a Ryanair spokesperson, commenting on behalf of British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair said: “We urge the UK Government to remove this ineffective visitor quarantine which will have a devastating effect on UK’s tourism industry and will destroy [even more] thousands of jobs in this unprecedented crisis”.

BA is planning up to 12,000 redundancies, while Virgin Atlantic has announced more than 3,000 job cuts and Ryanair at least 3,000. EasyJet plans to axe up to 4,500 posts.

Heathrow Airport's chief executive has warned that 25,000 jobs could be at risk. Speaking to the City AM podcast, The City View, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said he was now having to consider job cuts at the west London airport.

"76,000 people are employed at Heathrow," he said."That represents one-in-four households in the local community, so if we start cutting jobs on mass that has a devastating impact on local communities, including the Prime Minister's own constituency, which is only a few miles from the airport.

"What we've heard already from the airlines is that they are cutting around a third of all employees, so that would be 25,000 people out of work.

"That would be a devastating blow to west London and the Thames Valley."

Asked if he would also have to consider the future of a third of his workforce, Mr Holland-Kaye replied: "That's exactly the right kind of number. He added that the decision would be made "within the next couple of weeks".