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Sun, 7 June 2020

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Emily Thornberry: Government’s ‘vague promises’ on repatriation flights ‘not good enough’

Emily Thornberry: Government’s ‘vague promises’ on repatriation flights ‘not good enough’

Emily Thornberry criticised the Government's plans to fly stranded Brits home (PA)

3 min read

The Government’s “vague promises” to repatriate Brits stranded amid the global coronavirus epidemic are “not good enough”, Labour’s Emily Thornberry has said.

Her comments come after the Government announced it would spend £75m chartering flights to bring home the thousands of UK citizens stranded abroad. 

In a statement on Monday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said multiple airlines were participating in a huge airlift to get people home and that priority would be given to the elderly and those with medical needs.

But his Labour counterpart Emily Thornberry criticised the plan for failing to tackle many of the problems faced by those marooned overseas.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said: “We were promised a new strategy on repatriations today, but for the hundreds of thousands of Brits stranded abroad and their families back home - it was just more of the same.

“More reliance on commercial flights, which - for too many British travellers based in too many locations - are simply not an option at present. More vague promises about charter flights‎, but none of the commitment or urgency other countries like Germany have put into this. 

“More expressions of support for our Brits abroad, but no answers to any of the specific problems they are raising, from the loss of travel insurance and accommodation to dwindling supplies of medicine and money."

The Labour frontbencher added: "We need a comprehensive and fully-funded strategy to bring our British nationals home, using every option at the government's disposal, and to give them all the practical support and help they need in the interim. That is not what we got today, and that is not good enough.”

The Government plan to repatriate citizens stuck overseas will see commercial airlines BA, Virgin and Easyjet drafted in to help.

Existing commercial routes will be used where possible, ministers have said, but the Government has also promised financial help to carriers to allow them to put on special charter flights.

The move comes amid intense financial pressure on airlines, who have cut services and in some cases asked staff to work without pay following a global drop in demand for flights.

The Liberal Democrats meanwhile questioned why the Government had not drawn up a plan sooner.

Acting leader Sir Ed Davey said: “We welcome the steps the government is taking to charter flights in order to get people home, and to work to ensure commercial flights remain available where possible. 

"However, questions remain about why this announcement has taken so long. 

“Thousands have been seeking urgent assistance for weeks as borders have closed. 

“The delay has caused huge amounts of worry both for those stuck overseas and their families and friends in the UK. 

"The government must now make every possible effort to directly contact British citizens who are stuck, and do whatever is necessary to ensure they can board repatriation flights."

While the SNP's foreign affairs spokesperson Alyn Smith gave Mr Raab's announcement a cautious welcome, he questioned the time taken to launch the latest Foreign Office push.

He said: “I have been pressing the Foreign Office to do all that it can to help our constituents who are stuck abroad in challenging circumstances, and while the announcement should have come much sooner, the £75m package is a positive step.

“The UK has so far only organised limited flights from limited routes – leaving many vulnerable people trapped without access to information, access to healthcare or accommodation, and under increased financial strain."

Mr Smith said he would “continue to work with the FCO” to arrange travel to ensure those trapped abroad can “return swiftly and safely to their families and loved ones”.

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