PM urged to reconsider Sharm flight ban

Theresa May has been urged to reconsider the ban on flights between the UK and Sharm el-Sheikh during her visit to the Egyptian resort.

Labour MP Stephen Timms, co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Egypt, said the Prime Minister should take the opportunity to inspect the “dramatically tightened up” security arrangements at the town’s airport.

The Prime Minister will attend a two-day EU-League of Arab States summit in the Red Sea resort starting on Sunday.

There have been no commercial flights between the UK and Sharm el-Sheikh since November 2015 because of travel advice issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

This followed the downing of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai dessert, killing 224 people.

It is believed that a bomb was placed on the aircraft at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

Mr Timms said the Egyptian authorities have taken a number of measures to enhance security since then, and have taken advice from UK Government officials over the issue.

He told the Press Association: “With other European countries having already lifted the bans that they had imposed, the view of the APPG is that it’s definitely high time to lift the UK flight ban.

“I think the Prime Minster is well informed on the issue.

“I’m sure there are others involved in taking the decision as well, but I think this probably is in the end something that’s on her desk to decide.”

Sharm el-Sheikh previously attracted visits from hundreds of thousands of UK tourists every year.

The flight ban has affected travel agents, airlines and the town’s tourism industry.

Mr Timms said: “It’s done great damage to the Egyptian economy. It’s done damage to Britain’s standing in Egypt.

“It’s quite hard to see now – given all the improvements that have taken place – what the justification for it still being there really is.”

Carol MacKenzie, head of customer welfare at travel firm Thomas Cook Group, said: “This ban does not extend to the resort area. However, as long as the flight ban remains in place, the resort is, in effect, closed for British tourists.

“When the advice changes and we can build it into our holiday programme, we look forward to flying customers from the UK to Sharm again so they can enjoy all the resort has to offer.”

In August 2016, Mrs May welcomed Egypt’s efforts to improve security at the airport in a phone conversation with the country’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

An account of the call released by Downing Street gave no indication the Prime Minister was ready to ease Government advice, saying only that the UK would continue “working closely” with Cairo on the issue.

A Government spokeswoman said: “The security of British nationals is our top priority. The UK took the decision to suspend flights from Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2015 following the Metro Jet attack to protect the travelling public.

“While the Government has not yet concluded that it is right to lift the restrictions, we continue to work closely with the Egyptian authorities on aviation security and regularly review our decision.

“We look forward to achieving the return of flights when the situation allows.”

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