RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: So much for taking back control!

Whatever happened to Taking Back Control of our borders? For five years we heard little else from leaders of the Leave campaign.

Yet now those self-proclaimed saviours of British sovereignty find themselves in the driving seat, any pretence of pulling up the drawbridge to protect the national interest has dissolved like the froth on a slow-roast cappuccino.

From the start of the pandemic, ministers have been woefully slow to act — some would say criminally negligent — when it has come to stopping potential carriers of the virus from entering the country.

Last weekend, news of a dangerous new strain of Covid-19, which could be resistant to the vaccines currently being administered here, emerged from Brazil.

But it wasn’t until yesterday afternoon that the Government got round to banning flights from Brazil and South America.

Whatever happened to Taking Back Control of our borders? For five years we heard little else from leaders of the Leave campaign.

Last weekend, news of a dangerous new strain of Covid-19, which could be resistant to the vaccines currently being administered here, emerged from Brazil. (Above, testing at Guarulhos international airport in Sao Paulo on Monday)

Last weekend, news of a dangerous new strain of Covid-19, which could be resistant to the vaccines currently being administered here, emerged from Brazil. (Above, testing at Guarulhos international airport in Sao Paulo on Monday)

This is despite the fact that Brazil halted all flights from the UK three weeks ago after the Mutant Ninja Kent variant was discovered.

Faced with British Government inaction, the airlines were forced to act unilaterally. Back in December, BA took it upon itself to cancel all flights to and from most of South America until the end of February.

That doesn’t stop passengers from Brazil and elsewhere travelling to Britain via third countries in Europe. Thousands of passengers are still arriving every day at British ports and airports, and on Eurostar trains, without any checks on their Covid status.

Yesterday, travellers from all over the world were swanning through Heathrow with nobody asking them to prove they had tested negative for corona.

Despite all those coming from overseas nominally being required to quarantine for ten days, there is little evidence this has been widely enforced.

Perhaps if Extinction Rebellion poster boy Grant Shapps had spent less time since March littering the country with ridiculous cycle lanes and more time concentrating on preventing the importation of coronavirus, we'd be in a safer place

Perhaps if Extinction Rebellion poster boy Grant Shapps had spent less time since March littering the country with ridiculous cycle lanes and more time concentrating on preventing the importation of coronavirus, we’d be in a safer place

Ministers appear to have no sense of urgency when it comes to policing our borders.

A law insisting that all international arrivals — including returning British nationals — must produce evidence they had a negative test 72 hours before they travelled was due to take effect today.

But under cover of darkness on Wednesday night, that deadline was extended until 4am on Monday.

Instead of issuing an official ministerial statement, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps sneaked out the decision on Twitter at 11.01pm, complete with a stopwatch emoji — just in case we’re all too stupid to understand plain English.

As late as May, Patrick Vallance (pictured) resisted travel bans from individual regions on the grounds that they simply didn't work

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty

As late as May, Patrick Vallance (left) resisted travel bans from individual regions on the grounds that they simply didn’t work. This is the same Patrick Vallance, one of the Two Ronnies of Doom, who has spent the past ten months demanding ever tougher curbs on civil liberties at home. (Right, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty)

Who knows how many more people infected with Covid might have entered Britain by the time that deadline expires?

Perhaps if Extinction Rebellion poster boy Shapps had spent less time since March littering the country with ridiculous cycle lanes and more time concentrating on preventing the importation of coronavirus, we’d be in a safer place.

Still, his complacency is merely a reflection of this Government’s callous indifference in failing properly to address the threat of Covid coming here from overseas.

On January 31 last year, the much-maligned President Donald Trump banned all flights from China landing in the U.S.

Yet even when it was obvious that corona posed a clear and present danger, our Government allowed scheduled services between Britain and China — including Wuhan, where Covid originated — to continue to operate.

On the Thursday night, August 13, Shapps — yes, him again — announced that anyone who wasn't back in Blighty by 4am Saturday morning would have to quarantine for 14 days or face a fine of £1,000. (Above, Manchester Airport on Thursday)

On the Thursday night, August 13, Shapps — yes, him again — announced that anyone who wasn’t back in Blighty by 4am Saturday morning would have to quarantine for 14 days or face a fine of £1,000. (Above, Manchester Airport on Thursday)

Nor were there any enforced flight cancellations from Northern Italy, where Covid was rife. Back then, the official line being peddled by the chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance was that, since the virus was here already, closing the borders wouldn’t make much difference.

As late as May, Vallance resisted travel bans from individual regions on the grounds that they simply didn’t work. This is the same Patrick Vallance, one of the Two Ronnies of Doom, who has spent the past ten months demanding ever tougher curbs on civil liberties at home.

So while British citizens can be arrested and fined for sitting on a park bench or refusing to tell a copper where you’re going, travellers from goodness-knows-where have been free to enter this country without having to declare where they have been in the previous few weeks; whether or not they have tested positive or negative for Covid; or whether they are complying with quarantine regulations.

Thom, Deke and Ali are at liberty to hail taxis at Heathrow or travel on the Tube to their eventual unknown destinations after sailing unchallenged through immigration.

Meanwhile, joggers and dog walkers going about their lawful business in their local park are being treated like criminals by Plod and the standing army of Covid marshals.

Throughout this crisis, it has been instructive to compare the sympathetic treatment of foreign nationals with the draconian, knee-jerk restrictions forced on the rest of us on the home front.

Even now, at a time when we are told the threat from corona is worse than it has ever been, those arriving from abroad have been given an extended period of grace before they must produce evidence of a negative test.

Contrast Shapps’s generous decision to postpone until Monday morning today’s planned deadline — to give people ‘time to prepare’ — with the knee-jerk diktat issued in the summer giving British holidaymakers in Europe just a few hours’ notice to get home.

On the Thursday night, August 13, Shapps — yes, him again — announced that anyone who wasn’t back in Blighty by 4am Saturday morning would have to quarantine for 14 days or face a fine of £1,000.

Around 160,000 people stranded in France were forced to race through the night to catch ferries. Some even had to hitch rides on fishing boats. It was the biggest and most humiliating evacuation since Dunkirk.

Whitehall is declaring war on takeaway food and drink in an attempt to force people to stay at home. Working advertising slogan: 'DON'T LET A COFFEE COST A LIFE.' There's an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. An awful lot of Covid, too. But until now the Government hasn't bothered trying to prevent it spreading here

Whitehall is declaring war on takeaway food and drink in an attempt to force people to stay at home. Working advertising slogan: ‘DON’T LET A COFFEE COST A LIFE.’ There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. An awful lot of Covid, too. But until now the Government hasn’t bothered trying to prevent it spreading here

Families who had flown to other newly designated corona hotspots in Europe had no option but to turn around and catch the first flight back. Tens of thousands of other planned holidays were lost.

Maybe Shapps had a special emoji minted for that occasion, too. Sometimes it seems as if we’re being governed by a Cabinet of emojis.

For those of you unfamiliar with emojis, they’re those infuriating little cartoon symbols some people attach to emails. Thumbs up, thumbs down, that sort of thing.

Now that Downing Street has abandoned the idea of sending Allegra Stratton to face the media like a lamb to the slaughter every day, they could just stick up a few choice emojis to get their message across.

Boris and the Two Ronnies could be replaced by a squashed sombrero and a couple of emojis for every occasion. Covid cases DOWN — smiley face! Covid cases UP — sad face. Priti Flamingo — angry face!

Yesterday, the Government sent out a Home Office emoji called Victoria Atkins to defend the decision not to close the air corridor between Britain and Brazil earlier.

She was also asked why it has taken ten months to demand all international travellers produce evidence of negative tests, something other countries have insisted upon for months.

Atkins said ministers had to balance controlling the virus with ‘not putting too much burden on the economy’.

That preposterous justification will have been received with incredulity by businessmen and women across the land. They won’t have known whether to laugh or cry.

The economy has always come a distant second to combating Covid. Countless businesses, many of them household names, have gone to the wall.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost for ever, with many more to come.

High Street retail and hospitality have been devastated by repeated lockdowns. Family-run enterprises are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Cafes and restaurants are surviving on takeaway custom.

And how does this Government reward their dogged determination? Yesterday we learned ministers are planning to put them out of business, too.

Whitehall is declaring war on takeaway food and drink in an attempt to force people to stay at home.

Working advertising slogan: ‘DON’T LET A COFFEE COST A LIFE.’

There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. An awful lot of Covid, too. But until now the Government hasn’t bothered trying to prevent it spreading here.

Any more than they’ve turned away record numbers of illegal immigrants making their away across the Channel from France.

Far from it. Border patrols, who would be better employed carrying out Covid checks at Dover, have been instructed to pick up migrants in the Channel and ferry them ashore.

Do ministers have any idea whether Covid is rife or not in the camps around Calais? Do they care? Can we be sure that the ‘Kent’ strain wasn’t brought to Britain by dinghy?

We’ll never know, any more than we’ll know how many unchecked airline, ferry and Eurostar passengers have helped spread Covid-19 around Britain over the past ten months.

So much for Taking Back Control.

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