The transport secretary has defended government plans to impose a 10-year jail sentence for travellers who try to conceal journeys from high-risk countries, following a huge backlash.
Grant Shapps said the British public “would expect pretty strong action” against travellers who lied about their journeys and insisted the sentence was a “tariff” and “not necessarily how long somebody would go to prison for”.
On Tuesday health secretary Matt Hancock announced a requirement for UK residents returning to England from 33 “red list” countries to pay £1,750 to quarantine for 10 days in government-designated hotels.
Hancock made the announcement as part of the government’s plan to tackle coronavirus variants while the vaccine rollout is ongoing.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, Shapps said: “It’s up to 10 years, it’s a tariff, it’s not necessarily how long somebody would go to prison for.
Watch: Grant Shapps defends 10-year jail term for lying at UK border
“But I do think it is serious if people put others in danger by deliberately misleading and saying that you weren’t in Brazil or South Africa, or one of the red list countries, which as you say does include Portugal.
“But I think the British public would expect pretty strong action because we’re not talking now just about, ‘oh there’s a lot of coronavirus in that country and you might bring some more of it back when we already have plenty of it here’.
“What we’re talking about now are the mutations, the variants, and that is a different matter, because we don’t want to be in a situation where we later on discover that there’s a problem with vaccines.”
However, there has been considerable criticism of the plans, with former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve describing the 10-year jail terms as “entirely disproportionate”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Grieve added: “I was trying to work out why this figure had been plucked out of the air.
“This is a regulatory offence, and no regulatory offence I can think of attracts a 10-year sentence.
“The reality is that nobody would get such a sentence anyway, the courts are simply not going to impose it.”
Former Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption also hit out at the punishment and said it should not compare to those for violent or sexual crimes.
He wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “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?”
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the proposed sentences should be looked at with regard to existing offences.
He told Times Radio: “I’m of course in favour of there being a significant penalty for lying on a passenger locater form, it’s obviously a very serious thing to do.
“But the next step is then to look at how this works with regard to existing offences, so existing dishonesty and fraud offences, which is probably closest to, but also in relation… to other violent offences and serious sexual and other offences.”
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