Welsh Secretary says travel ban ‘risks stirring division and confusion’

The proposed ban on people entering Wales from UK coronavirus hotspots “risks stirring division and confusion”, the Welsh Secretary has said.

In a letter written to First Minister Mark Drakeford asking for clarification about the restrictions, Simon Hart also expressed his concern over comments that Welsh residents “would be on the lookout” for visitors breaching them.

On Thursday, Mr Hart wrote: “I remain worried that, without rapid explanation, this approach risks stirring division and confusion in Wales. We both know that, in reality, communities in Wales are as hard-hit by Covid-19 as English, Scottish, and Northern Irish communities.

“Your recent comment about residents in West Wales being ‘on the lookout for people who shouldn’t be in those areas’ is an example of exactly the situation we should be trying to avoid.”

Mr Hart also asked for a number of clarifications, including how the decision was made to restrict travel, legal guidance on how it is lawful, whether university students would be allowed to travel home, and how it will be enforced, all to be addressed by 4pm on Friday.

He also asked whether holiday accommodation providers would be expected to refuse or cancel bookings from guests they believed were breaking the travel ban.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Drakeford said holiday providers in Wales should not accept half-term bookings from people in areas of the UK with high levels of coronavirus.

Asked about existing bookings, he told BBC Breakfast: “I’m afraid those bookings will no longer be able to be honoured.

“It’s why we’re taking this action now to give people a good period of time to understand that, if you did book a holiday in those parts of Wales, I’m afraid that holiday will now no longer be able to take place.”

HEALTH Coronavirus Wales
HEALTH Coronavirus Wales

Mr Drakeford also said he was “baffled” by Boris Johnson’s reluctance to impose UK-wide travel restrictions, saying that had the Prime Minister supported the measure, it would have reinforced “the sense of acting together across the United Kingdom”.

But Alun Cairns, Conservative MP for the Vale of Glamorgan and former Welsh Secretary, accused Mr Drakeford of being “anti-English”, despite the Welsh restrictions covering people from all UK nations.

He told ITV Wales: “I am somewhat concerned that this is more to do with being anti-English than anti-Covid. I think the divisive nature of such a policy is dangerous.

“In England, in the high risk and the very high risk areas in the three-tier system, there’s clear advice that people shouldn’t be travelling.

“But to create a physical barrier or a policy barrier that is so clear and stark between Wales and England, at a time when we’ve been trying to open the borders… I think the tone and the language that the First Minister is using is quite dangerous.”