Sanwar Ali: additional reporting and comments
UK immigration staff have reported feeling demoralised after revealing that at least 8,000 tourists a day are arriving in Britain, despite coronavirus travel restrictions. UK border security expert, Chris Hobbs, says that hundreds are arriving on UK visas issued by the Home Office. The news comes amid the government tightening restrictions on Brits going abroad
The COVID-19 pandemic has now been going on for more than a year. There continues to be tough restrictions on people wishing to enter the UK and leave the UK. If you wish to leave the UK you can only do so under limited circumstances such as work related reasons and you need to complete a declaration form. Travellers leaving the UK without the form face a £200 fine.
According to UK immigration staff at borders, of the 20,000 people arriving in the UK every day, approximately 8,000 of them are tourists arriving on visit visas. Border Force staff claim that a tourist from Peru was granted a UK visit visa despite saying on their application form that they were ‘coming to see Big Ben’.
Chris Hobbs, a former border officer, told LBC: “UK immigration staff at Gatwick and Heathrow are not having a happy time at the moment. I’m reliably informed there’s virtually no checks on tourists leaving the UK at the moment. There’s no police checking documents or questioning. If you want to go you can basically go if you are prepared to take a small risk.”
“As for those coming in, the poor old Border Force have been having to deal with huge queues due to the extra paperwork they’re having to process... they’re very unhappy about the numbers of people coming in,” Mr Hobbs added.
The former border officer claims that staff are feeling ‘very demoralised’ because they are unable to do the job they are paid for.
He said: “You do wonder whether being lax on people leaving the country for whatever reason isn’t doing other countries any favours whatsoever.”
Independent member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), Doctor Gabriel Scally, told LBC that he was ‘alarmed’ by the number of people arriving in the UK on a daily basis. He described the system as ‘botched’.
He said: “At last we’re doing well in terms of getting people safe and vaccinated...but that’s just one protection. What we really need to worry about is this virus. We’re protected at the moment from most of the viruses circulating but the virus changes and mutates, the more the virus is replicating in people and countries, the more opportunity it has to mutate.”
According to Doctor Scally, vaccinating people becomes pointless if people are allowed to travel the world. He said: “This system looks like another botched attempt to convince people we're handling the virus properly.”
Labour was quick to take a swipe at the government following the claims made by UK immigration staff, saying that the figures could have ‘disastrous consequences’ for Britain’s response to the pandemic.
Nick Thomas Symonds, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “These revelations are completely outrageous and the British people will rightly be furious.”
“The inability of the Conservative government to protect our borders against COVID threatens to have disastrous consequences, leaving the door open to new strains of the virus. They must act now on Labour’s call for a comprehensive hotel quarantine system,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Home Office has said that it ‘does not recognise the figures’ provided by Border Force and insisted that UK immigration staff at nationwide borders have the right to refuse entry to anyone they deem to be a tourist.
Minister for future borders and immigration, Kevin Foster, said: “We do not recognise these figures. We are enforcing tough health measures at the border for the small minority of people coming to the UK, including those entering on a visitor visa for legitimate reasons.”
“Since January 2021, we have paused all decisions on visitor visas to applicants applying from a ‘red list’ country or where it is apparent an applicant has visited one of those countries in the last ten days,” Foster stated.
“Border Force officers also have the right to refuse entry to any visitor who they believe has travelled to the UK to carry out activities not permitted under current local health restrictions, such as holidays or tourism, or who will not comply with self-isolation and testing requirements,” Foster added.
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