Implementing tougher Australia-style border closures would not help the UK tackle the coronavirus pandemic, transport secretary Grant Shapps has insisted.
The cabinet minister said the UK’s proximity to continental Europe means it is important that vital goods and people continue to move in and out of the country.
The government has faced criticism for not introducing stricter border measures in response to the virus crisis.
Australia has enforced some of the toughest rules anywhere in the world, with only citizens, residents or immediate family members allowed to enter.
The rules were followed by a significant drop in coronavirus case numbers, enabling the country to ease lockdown restrictions.
Giving evidence to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee, Shapps said: “People say ‘why don’t we just close down and then we’ll be safe?’.
“But, of course, we wouldn’t be safe, because we are an island nation – unlike Australia or something which is an entire continent – and that means that we need to get medicines in, we need to get food in, we need to get our raw materials in, sometimes we have to move people around, scientists and others.
“If we weren’t doing these things then we simply wouldn’t be combating this crisis. In fact, specifically we wouldn’t have had things like the medicines that we’ve needed or indeed the vaccinations, some of which are manufactured in Europe, only 20 miles away at its closest point.”
He went on: “We are not, as I say, an entire continent like the USA or Australia. We rely very, very heavily on our very close connections with our friends and partners, particularly in Europe but elsewhere around the world.
“So we have to, we had to consider the practicalities of what we propose.”
Shapps said the UK “must not wrongly jump to the conclusion” that someone arriving from another country is “automatically problematic”.
He revealed that the government will not provide financial assistance to travellers required to stay in quarantine hotels.
People arriving from affected countries “will have known for quite some time that there were issues”, he told MPs.
“The numbers that we expect to see returning would be quite low.”