Britain risks being “cut off from the rest of the world” if border measures are tightened even further beyond the new quarantine plan, Boris Johnson has claimed.
The prime minister urged Labour to get behind the latest measures, which come into effect from Monday and include up to 10 years in prison for people who try to evade the rules in England.
Travellers also face charges of £1,750 to quarantine for 10 days in government-designated hotels if they return to England from 33 “red list” destinations.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pressed Johnson to go further on borders and to extend the furlough scheme, business rates relief and VAT cuts for the hospitality sector.
The prime minister did not answer when asked about furlough running beyond April and advised Sir Keir to wait for the Budget on March 3 to learn about business rates.
Sir Keir also accused Johnson of appearing to “change policy pretty well every day” on decisions over securing the UK border against Covid-19 variants, adding that Oxford University research suggests the country lags behind others when it comes to such restrictions.
He asked: “Fifty days after we first discovered the South African variant, how does the prime minister explain that?”
Johnson replied: “There are some countries in Europe which don’t even have a hotel quarantine scheme such as the one we’re putting in on Monday.
“We have amongst the toughest border regimes anywhere in the world.
“People should understand that on a normal day at this time of year you could expect about 250,000 to be arriving in this country. We’ve got it down to about 20,000 – 5,000 of them who are involved in bringing in vital things into this country, such as medicines and food.
“Unless he actually wants to cut this country off from the rest of the world – which I think last week he said he didn’t want to do, unless of course he’s changed his mind again – I think this policy is measured, proportionate, it’s getting tougher from Monday and I hope he supports it.”
Sir Keir countered: “The prime minister is failing to give security to British businesses and he’s failing to secure our borders.”
The Labour leader outlined his proposals to help businesses alongside a “comprehensive” hotel quarantine scheme for arrivals.
He asked: “No more delays, would he do it?”
Johnson said the government had announced a hotel quarantine policy, adding: “I’m delighted he’s supporting business in his latest stunt of bandwagoneering, not a policy for which he was famous before.”
He then accidentally referred to speaker Lindsay Hoyle as “Mr Crisis” when trying to attack Labour’s approach to the pandemic.