Starmer claims Prime Minister’s borders indecision has ‘blown’ Covid-19 road map

Boris Johnson’s indecision over securing the UK’s borders has “blown” his Covid-19 road map to freedom, according to Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour leader repeatedly pressed the Prime Minister to explain the UK’s high rates of the Delta variant first identified in India, which has been blamed for the four-week delay on easing restrictions.

Sir Keir also suggested the amber travel list, which includes France and Spain, should be scrapped and replaced by an approved list and a banned list of countries, in a bid to “save the British summer”.

But Mr Johnson defended the UK’s approach and claimed his Government acted swiftly to ban travel with India.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Sir Keir said: “We all want these restrictions to be over, for our economy to be open, for businesses to thrive – but the Prime Minister’s indecision at the borders has blown it.”

Mr Johnson could be heard shouting “rubbish” before Sir Keir added: “And the problem with everything the Prime Minister says today, both at the despatch box and what he’s muttered, is that we’ve heard it all before so many times.

“Last March, he said we could turn the tide in 12 weeks, remember that? Then he said it’d all be over by Christmas. Then we were told June 21 would be ‘freedom day’. Now we’re told July 19 is ‘terminus day’.

“The British people don’t expect miracles, but they do expect basic competence and honesty, and when it comes to care homes, protective equipment or borders, we see the same pattern from this Prime Minister – too slow, too indecisive, over-promising, under-delivering.

“After all these failures and mistakes, why should anyone believe the Prime Minister now?”

Mr Johnson replied: “Why should anybody believe the Leader of the Opposition when he can’t decide what he thinks one week to the next?

“He says he has a tough position on borders, actually he was attacking quarantine only recently and saying it was a blunt instrument that should be lessened.

“What the people of this country want to see is a Government getting on with the vaccine rollout and getting on with our cautious and irreversible road map to freedom.”

Earlier, Mr Johnson suggested Sir Keir needs to “adjust his retrospectoscope” when asked about the borders policy.

Sir Keir asked: “Does the Prime Minister recognise that his decision to keep our borders open contributed to the spread of the Delta variant in this country?”

Responding, Mr Johnson said: “No. I think that Captain Hindsight needs to adjust his retrospectoscope because he’s completely wrong.

“We put India on the red list on April 23 and the Delta variant was not so identified until April 28 and was only identified as a variant of concern on May 7.

“When he criticises this Government for wanting to keep our borders open, just remember that he voted 43 times in the last five years to ensure that our border controls were kept in the hands of Brussels.”

Mr Johnson also said the Delta variant is “seeded around the world in 74 countries and sadly it is growing”, adding: “But there’s a difference between those countries and this country: in this country we have vaccinated almost 79% of the adult population and given two vaccinations to 56%, a programme that he would have stopped by keeping us in the European Medicines Agency.”

Sir Keir shot back: “Our NHS has been doing an amazing job with the vaccine rollout but while the NHS was vaccinating, he was vacillating.

“It is because of his indecision that our borders stayed open. It is because of his indecision that India stayed off the red list. It’s because of his indecision that in that period, 20,000 people came to this country from India.

“The consequences are now clear: the rate of the Delta variant is much higher here than in other countries, and we learn today that tragically, once again, the UK has the highest infection rate in Europe.”

Mr Johnson said the UK “took the most drastic steps possible” to put India on the red list on April 23, before hailing the vaccine programme.

He added: “It’s thanks to the vaccine rollout, thanks to the fantastic efforts of the NHS, that we have now and can continue with one of the most open economies and societies in Europe and get on with our cautious but irreversible road map to freedom.”

Sir Keir countered: “If the Prime Minister put as much effort into protecting our borders as he does coming up with ridiculous excuses, the country would be reopening next week.”

Mr Johnson defended the traffic light system for travel, and insisted it will continue.