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The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told Sky News that Britons can "start to think" about booking summer holidays.
- People are desperate for clarity, as I'm sure you'll appreciate. Are you any closer to telling them whether they can travel internationally from May the 17th?
GRANT SHAPPS: We're definitely closer. We'll say that before May the 17th, which is the earliest possible date if you remember the prime minister's roadmap, and then we'll be able to say whether we can resume on the 17th of May. But what we've got today is a framework for doing that. So this traffic light system you've been talking about-- red, amber, green.
And in the green category, we'll try to make it as affordable as possible to travel. But taking an abundance of caution as we go because we don't want to throw away all the good work of these lockdowns, and people coming forward for vaccines by picking up variants of concern or anything else. So it's a cautious move, but at least it provides that framework for people.
- What would you say to those who might think the cost will be prohibitive for people to travel? Say for a family of four, with a test costing about 120 pounds. That's nearly 500 pounds on top of the cost of a holiday if they have to carry out PCR tests.
GRANT SHAPPS: Yeah, and costs are definitely a concern as one of the factors this year, and we have to accept we're still going through a global pandemic. Actually, I think we forget in the UK because we've had such a successful rollout of the vaccine and the most of any major economy, that actually in the rest of the world this thing is raging and there's a big third wave. And so we do have to be cautious, and I'm afraid that does involve having to have some tests and the like.
But I am undertaking today to drive down the costs of those tests and looking at some innovative things we could do. For example, whether we can help provide the lateral flow test that people need to take before they depart the country that they're in to return to the UK. And also drive down the costs of the tests when they get home if it's in the green category where it's just a single test. So trying to make it as practical as possible.
I think everybody accepts there are more problems to resolve than there would have been if coronavirus wasn't around. But we're trying to do everything we can to help.
- What about the cost that people might have to pay if they have to quarantine when they get home in a hotel at their own expense?
GRANT SHAPPS: Yes, well, I think as far as red countries, Red List countries are concerned and we've got I think 39 of them at the moment, for the most part, people aren't traveling from those countries. And at the moment, of course, it's the case that people are going to those quarantine hotels might not be factoring that in before they decide to travel from those locations. I don't think they'll be summer holiday locations, of course, because of the quarantine nature of them.
I think what people will be looking at is the green list in particular, and thinking, well, perhaps those are the countries to go to. And what we tried to do, which is an innovation on last year is introduce what we're calling a Green Watch List. So that if we have concerns, and these are likely, this year, to be concerns over different variants coming about, then we can indicate that, flag that up to people. And then they have a little bit of notice, rather than what we saw last year, which were things changing very quickly, which I experienced myself as we had to change Spain off the corridor at that time.
So we're trying to find ways to improve the situation. Everyone accepts there's more risk involved in traveling during coronavirus. But for the first, time there's a framework, and for the first time, people may be starting to think about, not just international holidays, but the number of people who have families abroad and haven't seen them for months on end, and of course, getting business restarted as well. So those are really important aspects of this.
- How often will you be reviewing the list?
GRANT SHAPPS: Very regularly. So the list itself will be under constant review because we have to respond to the coronavirus itself, and we all know how this works. It can be pretty quick. But more fundamentally, we'll also review on three specific dates.
At the end of June, July, and beginning of October we'll actually review the system itself. In other words, what you have to do if you're in a green, amber, and red, to see whether we can lessen any of the different criteria. So we'll be reviewing it constantly.
But the important thing is to have this kind of framework that people can say, OK, if we do want to go away, or if I want to visit a loved one-- you know, one figure which is absolutely amazing as, I was just looking at the Office of National Statistics say that over 1/3 of all children born in the UK have at least one parent who was born outside of the UK. So we have this enormous international network, probably more than almost any other country. And people, of course, want to see their families, just as we do domestically as we get to these different stages of the unlocking, including next Monday.
- What sort of help will be put in place if people find that the situation changes as you described while they're abroad, and the country that they've traveled to has one status when they arrived but another when they're about to leave?
- Well, first of all, the Green Watch List is designed to help people to get some forward guidance. Now I can't guarantee that will always be absolutely 100% available. We may have to make very quick decisions, as we had to last year.
But on balance, in general, if you have, for example, a variation in the coronavirus you usually have at least a couple of weeks whilst you're sequencing that to see whether it's actually a variation of concern, whether the mutation is more significant. And so, that would give people a period of time to potentially know.
So that's the first thing. We should have a bit more notice this year. And then secondly, of course, you've got the consulates and assistants around the world from the foreign Commonwealth development office, which people are able to turn to for help and advice, and that's very well established globally.
- So what's the official advice from the government at the moment? Should people be booking foreign holidays? Because not so long ago the advice was not to and perhaps book a holiday within the UK.
GRANT SHAPPS: My advice today would be sort of moving on from where we were before. I'm not telling people that they shouldn't book some holidays now. It's the first time I've been able to say that for many months. But I think everybody doing it understands there are risks with coronavirus and, of course, actually I think people would want to be clear about which countries are going to be in the different traffic light system, and people predominantly, of course, be looking to book in a green country.
So there's only two or three weeks to wait before we publish that list itself. But, yes, tentative progress for the first time. People can start to think about visiting loved ones abroad, or perhaps a summer holiday. But we're doing it very, very cautiously because we don't want to see any return of coronavirus in this country.
- I just want to ask about Northern Ireland. We've seen the use of water cannon on the streets of Belfast for the first time in six years. What do you think the UK government should be doing to bring about peace?
GRANT SHAPPS: Well, very concerning, and can I just say there's no role for violence to resolve these issues whatsoever. And particularly against the police service of Northern Ireland, which is working to try to keep things calm. Last night, the prime minister spoke to the Taoiseach. All the different parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly have issued a joint statement calling for calm, calling for an end to the violence. I understand from the Secretary of State of Northern Ireland that things were a little bit calmer yesterday compared with the night before. We need to make sure that people are talking and resolving whatever concerns they have, but not through violence.
- And just on the lobbying row with the Greensill story, the Treasury has released text messages from Rishi Sunak's private phone to the prime minister David Cameron. They do show that the lengths the former prime minister was going to in order to make his case for Greensill. Do you think he's behaved reputably?
GRANT SHAPPS: Well, he's a private citizen. He's not within a couple of years where the rules apply after you leave public office, and he's free to do what he likes. And the most important thing about this whole story is, of course, Greensill, the company in the news there didn't get whatever it was asking for. So the whole system has worked just as it should do, and it's been judged fairly--
- It does speak to their privileged access to the heart of government that other companies wouldn't have privy to.
GRANT SHAPPS: Well, the company's actually very adept at making sure that they can get their messages across, and it's very common for ministers to receive messages. I know what the Chancellor did, is exactly what I would do, that all ministers would do correctly, which is just ping that message on to officials who then deal with it in the normal way.
It didn't really matter how you end up speaking to government, and government has to speak to industry all the time. And it's a factor of needing to communicate. It doesn't really matter how it comes in. The fact of the matter is the result is--
- Not everyone's--
GRANT SHAPPS: Sorry.
- --a previous prime minister.
GRANT SHAPPS: You can't change those facts of life. He was a previous prime minister. But as you've seen, it hasn't changed the outcome and that should give people I think quite a lot of reassurance of our system.
- Do you think David Cameron should speak out just to put this to bed now?
GRANT SHAPPS: It's entirely up to him. I say he actually predicted lobbying is a problem many, many years ago. I think 10 years ago. But it's entirely up to him.
He is entitled as a private citizen to do whatever he likes. I think the most important thing is that the upshot, the outcome of this is exactly as it would have been, had it been anyone or any company. And I'm afraid in this case Greensill didn't get what they were after in any case.