Behind the scenes

Tories furious about ten-year sentences for quarantine-dodgers

Backbenchers accuse Matt Hancock of making ‘empty threat’ to people who travel to high-risk countries

Conservative backbenchers and legal experts are up in arms over Matt Hancock’s announcement that travellers caught lying about trips to high-risk countries could face ten years in prison.

The health secretary announced yesterday that anyone caught trying to conceal a trip to a country on the government’s red list, after which arrivals have to spend ten days quarantined in a hotel, would face a £10,000 fine or prosecution with a maximum ten-year prison sentence.

Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court judge, claimed the health secretary’s “connection with reality, which has been getting looser for some time, has finally snapped”.

Writing in The Telegraph, Sumption, who has raised eyebrows with his anti-lockdown interventions throughout the pandemic, said: “Does Mr Hancock really think that non-disclosure of a visit to Portugal is worse than the large number of violent firearms offences or sexual offences involving minors for which the maximum is seven years?”

Dominic Grieve, a former Conservative attorney general, also told the paper that the maximum sentence of ten years for what is “effectively a regulatory breach sounds in the circumstances” seemed “extraordinarily high”.

An unnamed Tory MP accused Hancock of making an “empty threat”, telling Politico’s London Playbook: “We’ve been stuck on a borders policy that is too weak and now Hancock has shit the bed and come up with this empty threat to overcompensate.” 

The “bold policy” has also split the Cabinet, with “several senior Tories raising objections to the draconian measure - and doubts emerging in Whitehall as to whether it will ever come into force”, the site adds.

And Mark Harper, a Conservative MP and the leader of the lockdown-sceptic Coronavirus Recovery Group, told The Times that he doubted whether the 10-year sentence was appropriate and warned it could not be introduced without a vote.

He added that there is a growing risk that the restrictions could be in place “for ever” as the virus will continue to mutate.

Hancock insists that the new restrictions for travellers arriving in Britain will be applied from next Monday, telling the House of Commons yesterday that “we want of course to be able to exit from this into a system of safe international travel as soon as is practicable”.

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