Minister dismisses reports of 14-day quarantine exemption for business trips

The Government has been accused of “allowing their rich friends to buck the system” following reports that business workers are to be exempt from the 14-day quarantine rule.

Labour peer Lord Berkeley warned the Government that if the reports are accurate, it should not expect the rest of the country to comply with current coronavirus restrictions when certain groups of society do not have to follow them.

But Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew dismissed the rumours as “just speculation”.

Speaking following the Government’s economic update statement, Lord Berkeley said: “In the Sunday Times there was a quote last Sunday that the Prime Minister has ordered a review which has allowed city deal makers, hedge fund managers and company bosses flying into the UK to be exempt from the 14-day quarantine rule under plans to promote global Britain.

“Now there is also stories that working lunches of up to 30 people being promoted now by expensive London restaurants can be allowed as long as they discuss business.

“So can the minister confirm if anyone who is involved in global business, or thinks they are involved in global business, or global Britain, or business, can therefore exempt themselves from these rules and that these can apply to anyone else?

“Because if not, how can the Government expect the rest of the country to comply when allowing their apparently rich friends to buck the system?”

Lord Agnew replied: “I suspect this is just speculation and I am certainly not aware of any Government policy that is promoting that.

“As we know, groups are allowed to meet in an outside setting – six people, socially distanced can eat if they are in an outside setting and those facilities are being made available in pubs and restaurants.

“But I am not aware of any special treatment the noble Lord refers to.”

Meanwhile, Conservative peer Lord Balfe said that civil servants working from home are “the ones who are making the rules, but they are seldom suffering any of the consequences of them”.

Lord Balfe said: “Let me say, this House is almost empty of workers.

“If they can work at home for so many months without us even seeing them, is there not a good case for a number of the jobs in the House of Lords to be moved to the areas of high unemployment and of poverty in the North East?

“Because if they can be done remotely from Dorking, Woking and towns in Berkshire, they can surely be done from Hartlepool and some of the delightful towns to be found in the North East and the North of the country where these jobs are seriously needed.”

Lord Agnew replied: “The noble Lord makes an extremely important point and by coincidence, I have been the minister working on the programme to move civil servants out of London which we announced recently – and the Prime Minister will be making more comments on this shortly.

“But given that I’ve lived this for sixth months, I can ensure my honourable friend that we have identified 14 hubs and spokes across Britain, including the devolved authorities.

“And the most important part of this actually is to get the senior servants out of London, because they’re the ones who are making the decisions on the lives of people from whom they are, in my view, far too detached.”

In a later response to Labour peer Lord Rooker, Lord Agnew warned that the pandemic could go on for much longer.

He said: “The brutal reality now is that this could roll on for even another year depending on any progress on a vaccine which is far from certain.”