No 10 criticised over 'Stanley Johnson loophole' for second homeowners in latest Covid measures

Stanley Johnson leaves the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London where the new Conservative party lead

Stanley Johnson leaving the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London - Credit: PA

People will be allowed to leave the UK to prepare a second home for rent or sale under new Covid travel rules coming into force on March 29.

The latest restrictions will include a list of specific "reasonable excuses to travel" outside the UK, including what Labour has dubbed the "Stanley Johnson clause".

The prime minister's father breached Covid guidelines last summer by travelling to his Greek villa in a bid to make it "Covid-proof".

The exemption allows people to travel abroad "in connection with the purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property". Those activities include visiting an estate agent, developer sales office or show home, viewing residential properties to rent or buy, and preparing a property for moving in.

Other exemptions include study or competing in an elite sporting event.

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Labour MP and former shadow cabinet minister Andrew Gwynne said: "For hardworking families facing the prospect of missing out on summer holidays, it will stick in the craw that the government has inserted a 'Stanley Johnson clause' to Covid rules that allows people to come and go if they have property abroad … It seems it’s still one rule for them and another for the rest of us."

Another Labour source called it the "Stanley Johnson loophole" for "those managing their overseas property empires", and accused the government of being "only focused on their own privileged lives".

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People who are caught breaking travel restrictions could face a fine of up to £5,000.

The rules are part of wider legislation aimed at easing Covid restrictions, but which allows No 10 to continue enforcing emergency powers until the end of October.

A group of Tory MPs are planning to vote down the Coronavirus Act when it comes before parliament on Thursday. This comes after No 10 announced it was dropping 12 measures in the Act.

Mark Harper, a Conservative backbencher and chair of the Covid Recovery Group, expressed frustration at a "fundamental contradiction" between Johnson promising a "one-way road to freedom" from 21 June – the final stage of his roadmap out of lockdown – and the Coronavirus Act being extended until October.

He said: "The Coronavirus Act contains some of the most draconian detention powers in modern British legal history, and if ministers want to renew its provisions, they must demonstrate they are proportionate, reasonable and grounded in evidence. For any and every temporary measure that the government wishes to retain, the burden is on them to set out, in parliament, a very clear justification.

"If the government wants parliament to pass a law this Thursday making it illegal for families to celebrate Easter together, ministers should be prepared to say that they want these laws to be consistently policed and enforced.

"It is damaging to pass laws that aren’t enforced, and unfair to place police officers in an impossible position."

Johnson is expected to win comfortably with Labour signalling it will support the legislation when it passes through the Commons later this week.

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