Government was ‘too slow’ to repatriate stranded Britons at start of pandemic

The government was “too slow” to repatriate Britons at the start of the pandemic, according to an influential group of MPs.

The report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee found that there was a lack of “empathy and compassion” shown to some of those stranded abroad.

The chair of the committee, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, criticised the department for giving “misleading and outdated” advice, which at times was “entirely absent”.

Around 1.3 million Britons were stuck abroad as the coronavirus crisis set in.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) says it worked “tirelessly” to bring those stranded home on 186 charter flights.

However the select committee says “too much reliance” was placed on commercial travel providers, while countries like France and Germany acted more swiftly to charter flights.

The report found Berlin chartered more than 260 flights for 260,000 citizens.

Mr Tugendhat did praise the “fantastic” efforts of FCO staff in challenging conditions but added that there were “some notable areas of weakness”.

He said £40m of the £75m allotted for repatriations was spent, which could “only be explained as cost-cutting”.

Mr Tugendhat said he hoped the unspent money would be kept aside for anyone stranded during a potential second wave of COVID-19.

As the UK revises its travel advice to advise against all but essential travel to Spain, the committee chair said he hoped lessons could be learned to ensure better communication.

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