The Prime Minister’s claim we can’t close borders because we need to import food has been branded a “complete and utter nonsense” by a Sage adviser.
Boris Johnson suggested there could not be a complete shutdown of the border while responding to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, who asked why further measures had not been taken.
The PM responded by saying 75% of Britain's medicines come from Europe as does 45% of its food, while 250,000 British businesses rely on imports.
Johnson said: “It is not practical completely to close off this country as he seems to be suggesting.
“What is practical to do is have one of the toughest regimes in the world and to get on with vaccinating the people of this country.”
Watch: Boris Johnson says it’s ‘not practical’ to shut borders
But Stephen Reicher, a member of the Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science, said it was not true.
He tweeted: “This is complete and utter nonsense.
“To say we can't have managed isolation of travellers from all countries because we need food and medicine coming into the UK is like saying we can't have a 'stay at home' policy because we need food shops and hospitals to stay open.”
Opening PMQs, Sir Keir earlier questioned why further measures had not been taken at the country’s borders.
He said: “Today we’re likely to hit 10 million vaccinations, which is remarkable. The biggest risk to the vaccine programme at the moment is the arrival of new variants such as the South African variant.
“On that issue, the government’s own scientists Sage said two weeks ago, and I quote, ‘only a complete pre-emptive closure of borders or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival can get close to fully preventing new cases or new variants’. So, pretty clear.
“So why did the Prime Minister choose not to do the one thing that Sage said could prevent new variants coming to the UK?”
This is complete and utter nonsense.
To say we can't have managed isolation of travellers from sll countries because we need food and medicine coming into the UK is like saying we can't have a 'stay at home' policy because we need food shops and hospitals to stay open. pic.twitter.com/ZKs5xdSDIW
— Stephen Reicher (@ReicherStephen) February 3, 2021
Johnson replied: “Actually, Sage did not recommend a complete ban and they say travel bans should not be relied upon to stop the importation of new variants.
“But we do have one of the toughest regimes in the world.”
He added: “They will have an isolation assurance agency checking up on them and it is illegal now to go on holiday in this country, it is illegal to travel from South Africa or all the countries on the current red list and we will be going forward with a plan to ensure people coming into this country from those red list countries immediately have to go into Government-mandated quarantine hospitality.”
Sir Keir countered: “He doesn’t seem to dispute that, he says it simply wasn’t a recommendation.
“I would ask the Prime Minister to publish the full Sage minutes so that we can see what was said in full or if there’s some other advice, perhaps publish that.”
Sir Keir went on to ask why the Prime Minister thinks new variants will “only arrive in the UK from direct flights”.
Mr Johnson responded: “(Sir Keir) can’t have it both ways. He simultaneously says that he wants the borders to be kept open for freight reasons or to allow businesses to carry on, I think that was what he was saying, whilst calling for tougher quarantine measures, which is exactly what this Government imposed as soon as we became aware of the new variant.”
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