RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: It's not just airlines – UK plc is in a tailspin09/04/2020
RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: It’s not just the airlines – UK plc is in a tailspin as well
Britannia may rule the airwaves once more, but it’s a pity the same can’t be said for the airways. New BBC director-general Tim Davie might have overturned the ludicrous ban on singing traditional patriotic songs at the Proms.
Yet what’s the point of belting out Land Of Hope And Glory when the country is still cowering in its shell?
Our airports are as deserted as the City of London’s ghostly financial district, with passenger numbers down by more than 80 per cent.
The draconian, confused quarantine rules introduced to combat Covid have strangled tourism, business travel and international trade.
Heathrow, until recently a teeming global hub and one of the busiest airports on earth, has just announced it is shedding a quarter of its staff.
British Airways has grounded its fleet at Gatwick and made hundreds more redundant.
The UK’s airports are as deserted as the City of London’s ghostly financial district, with passenger numbers down by more than 80 per cent
Virgin Atlantic has pulled out of Gatwick altogether. Ryanair has cut flights by a fifth, and easyJet has closed its operations at Stansted, Southend and Newcastle. Yesterday, the head of Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton airports accused the Government of ‘overseeing the demise of UK aviation’.
Derek Provan compared the avalanche of jobs being lost in the airline industry to the closure of coal mines in the 1980s.
John Holland-Kaye, the boss of Heathrow, has warned that unless the Government opens up long-haul routes as a matter of urgency ‘Global Britain will become Little Britain’.
That should send shudders down the spine of a Prime Minister who boasted that after Brexit, the UK would become once again a freebooting trading nation open to the whole world, not manacled to a sclerotic, protectionist European Union.
Yet Boris Johnson’s Government, and the small town Trumptonistas in Scotland and Wales, have compounded the crisis caused by coronavirus through a series of calamitous, knee-jerk quarantine measures.
Policy is apparently being made by throwing a dart at a map of the world. Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey looks precise by comparison.
One day, it’s safe to travel to France.
The next, unless you’re back by 4am tomorrow you will have to go into self-imposed house arrest for a fortnight when you do return.
Italy is safe again, until it isn’t.
If it’s Thursday, it must be Portugal’s turn. Or is it?
Frankly, I can’t keep up.
You can still travel from Greece, but only if you fly into England.
John Holland-Kaye, the boss of Heathrow, has warned that unless the Government opens up long-haul routes as a matter of urgency ‘Global Britain will become Little Britain’
Wee Burney has decreed that anyone holidaying in Greece will have to quarantine for 14 days when they get back to Scotland.
The Welsh, desperate to get in on the act, have come up with an absurd halfway house, exempting most of Greece except the island of Zante.
One-hundred-and-eighty! How the hell are families planning holidays overseas supposed to have the confidence to make informed decisions?
Why would any sane foreign tourist book a short break in Britain when they could, at five minutes’ notice, be forced to self-isolate for two weeks as soon as they step off the plane?
Is it any wonder the uncertainty is putting one million jobs at risk in the already hard-hit travel and hospitality sectors.
How can companies that depend on exports decide whether to send salesmen to meet customers abroad?
Matt Hancock, our permanently pleased-with-himself juvenile Health Secretary was doing the rounds yesterday bragging about the success of test-and-trace.
So why persevere with imposing senseless, over-the-top quarantine regulations on airline passengers when a simple new Covid test is available which yields a result in just 20 minutes?
If 30 other countries can test airport arrivals, why not the UK?
Especially when most people have about as much chance of being killed in an air crash as dying from Covid.
My best guess is that this is just the latest example of backside-covering in advance of the inevitable public inquiry into the handling of the crisis.
Ministers know they were at fault at the start of the epidemic in continuing to allow flights from dangerously infected hotspots, such as Northern Italy and China, to land in Britain without any health checks on passengers.
That almost certainly contributed to the rapid spread of the disease here.
So they’re not taking any chances now, regardless of the economic consequences. And, trust me, those consequences are looking more catastrophic by the day.
It’s not just the effect on airlines, airports and the aviation manufacturing sector, which has also been forced to shed thousands of jobs.
This goes way beyond that. If Britain is to prosper post Brexit, we have to exploit our natural advantages, such as our time zone and geographical position, which makes us a bridge between East and West, between the U.S., Europe and beyond.
We have to attract investment from around the world. To achieve that, we must resume long-haul flights as soon as possible.
Boris Johnson must give the lead, rediscover the political courage that propelled him first to become Mayor of London, then win the Brexit referendum, and finally achieve his lifetime’s ambition of making it into No10
OK, so crucial transatlantic routes are largely closed, but we should be doing everything we can to persuade our American friends to open them up to British travellers.
If there really is a special relationship, we should be using it to convince Washington that we’re prepared to move heaven and earth to make air travel between our two great nations safe again.
We can do that, not by ‘air bridges’, but by setting a positive example and introducing a proper state-of-the-art testing system for passengers travelling to and from the States and elsewhere.
And especially by lifting immediately the crazy quarantine rules which tell the world that Britain is closed for business.
Our airline industry is the pivot upon which much of the rest of our economy — and our future prosperity — spins.
Before Covid, and with Brexit done , there was talk of international corporations relocating their headquarters to London.
Part of the attraction was the convenience of Heathrow as a global hub.
The rest was London as global city, a world centre of finance, business and the arts. All of that is now under threat.
Central London is a hollowed-out husk.
Restaurants are struggling, theatres are dark and getting around is an obstacle course, thanks to the deranged ‘people friendly’ streets initiative.
Deprived of foreign visitors and business travellers, hotels are staring down the barrel of imminent bankruptcy.
But why would anyone want to visit London, let alone move their headquarters here, unless things get back to normal pretty sharpish?
Mind you, that’s all academic, thanks to a Government that is making air travel as confusing and inconvenient as possible.
At the moment, it’s less trouble entering Britain on a cross-Channel dinghy from Calais than arriving on a scheduled flight at Heathrow.
As the Mail said yesterday, this is the moment to throw open Britain’s doors to international trade and tourism.
It’s high time ministers stopped behaving like the Cowardly Lion and embraced the necessary risk to kick-start our emaciated economy and put the country back to work.
Right now, we live in a Land of Hopeless Tories, frightened of their own shadows. Boris Johnson must give the lead, rediscover the political courage that propelled him first to become Mayor of London, then win the Brexit referendum, and finally achieve his lifetime’s ambition of making it into No10.
Is he up to it? Based upon his lacklustre demeanour over the summer and his shambling PMQs performance this week, the jury is out.
But if Boris doesn’t deploy his booster rockets, Brexit may be all for naught.
Great Britain plc, not just the airline industry, is in a tailspin. Singing Rule, Britannia isn’t going to save us.
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