Patel to hold press conference after admitting borders should have shut earlier

Home Secretary Priti Patel will lead a Downing Street press conference at 5pm.

She will be accompanied by Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS England regional medical director for London.

It’s after the Home Secretary admitted the UK should have shut its borders in March to stop Covid spreading from abroad.

In comments leaked to the Guido Fawkes website, Ms Patel told the Conservative Friends of India group: ‘On “should we have closed our borders earlier”, the answer is yes. I was an advocate of closing them last March.’

Her remarks were contrary to her public defence of the Government’s decision not to enact a full arrivals shutdown when the pandemic first began.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Ms Patel may have broken the ministerial code by advocating border closures against Government policy.

As a Secretary of State, she must abide by the principle that ministers maintain a united front on positions after they have been agreed.

Asked about her comments on strengthening the border, Sir Keir told reporters: ‘That does call into question the ministerial code but it also calls into question the Prime Minister’s judgment.

‘She may have broken the ministerial code but that is secondary. The issue that matters here is has the Prime Minister, has the Cabinet, taken the measures necessary to secure our borders. People are much more interested in that question than whether somebody has broken the ministerial code.’

In mid-March, the UK abandoned asking people to quarantine for two weeks after arriving from areas with high infection rates, such as Hubei province in China and Italy.

The decision was in contrast to many other countries, such as New Zealand, which has been widely praised for getting the pandemic under control, partly through strict quarantine measures for arrivals.

The UK Government introduced blanket quarantine restrictions in June for all international travellers, except those coming from Ireland, while ‘travel corridors’ with countries deemed to have safe levels of infection were established a month later.

Ministers this week suspended all travel corridors and introduced new rules requiring arrivals to produce a negative coronavirus test taken up to 72 hours before departure and to self-isolate for up to 10 days after entering the UK, in a move designed to prevent new strains of Covid-19 entering the country.

The Government’s decision-making on border controls was criticised in a report published by the Commons Home Affairs Committee in August, with MPs concluding that coronavirus had spread faster in the UK as a result of the failure to bring in quarantine rules for travellers in the early days of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Ms Patel continued her public defence of the actions taken, telling broadcasters that ministers had followed scientific advice over border controls.

She will lead the Downing Street briefing after the UK recorded another 1,800 deaths from the pandemic.

Yesterday’s figure for reported deaths was the highest yet and the Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned there are more to come.

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