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Published on Thursday, February 11, 2021

Mixed messages over summer? We're being as clear as we can, insists Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock risked ridicule from the travel industry this morning as he said ministers are trying to be 'absolutely clear' about the prospects of taking a summer holiday.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Mr Hancock defended the hamfisted messages coming from ministers, stressing the uncertainty of the pandemic made it impossible to set a date when domestic or international travel may resume.

Mr Hancock has previously said the public should look forward to a Great British summer, revealing he had booked a break in Cornwall.

But that message has been contradicted in recent days by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who warned people not to book a UK-based or overseas holiday.

Mr Shapps further antagonised the industry by saying: "Please don't go ahead and book a holiday for something which at this stage is illegal."

Despite the confusion, Mr Hanock said this morning: "We are trying to be as absolutely clear as we can about what we do know and what we do not yet know

"What we do not know is the timing of when we'll be able to release measures because it's too early to say."

Asked whether he was still promising a Great British summer, Mr Hancock said: "We very much hope so but of course there is uncertainty.

"As the Prime Minister set out yesterday we do have to be patient. One of the challenges of a pandemic is there is this uncertainty

"What I can tell you is that we are all working incredibly hard to try to ensure that not only can people have a holiday this summer but also that.....people can go and see loved ones and we can get life more back to normal."

Pressed on the uncertainty caused by the mixed messages, Mr Hancock said: "This uncertainty does mean that we can't, any of us, know exactly what the rules or the situation will be like because it depends on how effectively we can deal with this pandemic."

Asked whether he was now saying people should not book a summer holiday, the Health Secretary said he was saying 'exactly the same' as his colleagues.

"I am saying what every minister is saying which is there is uncertainty and that means we cannot make categorical assurances. But we are doing everything we can to get things back to normal.

"This is exactly what the PM was saying last night when he was asked this question.

"It is difficult. I do understand how difficult it is and I know people are yearning to have a direct answer because people look forward to their summer holidays so much.

"But even before getting to whether or not you can book your holidays there is the question of when we can see our loved ones and exit lockdown.

"These things really matter but unfortunately there is that uncertainty and we are going to have to be patient."

The message not to book a summer break because 'it is illegal to go on holiday' has infuriated the industry.

Sports tourism operator Motorsport Tickets was the latest to attack the remarks, with Marketing Director Richard Gibson-Venner saying 'sweeping statements from ministers' are causing a 'real challenge'.

"As an industry that fundamentally relies on the ability to travel, the sport tourism and ticketing business is also deeply affected by the ripples caused by the lack of Government clarity," he said.

"Sports tourism is a huge business, which brings billions to the UK economy, but it is also of importance to those who love to travel internationally for hobbies and leisure activities.

"It is hugely disappointing to see the lack of consideration for industries that are counting on a positive message, not only to support business but also to give the UK something to look forward to.

"We need a robust reopening strategy, to allow people to plan their travel for all matter of reasons, including for sporting events which are still due to go ahead."

He called for greater communication between the travel and health departments, as well as 'consistent dialogue and input from experts in each industry'.

!Instead of losing another summer season to the pandemic, something the travel, sports tourism, and ticketing industries can't afford, we urge the government to look further into Covid passports as a way of increasing confidence and security for large scale summer events," Mr Gibson-Venner said.

The travel and transport union, TSSA, also condemned the mixed messages, warning that senior ministers are 'sinking our travel trade".

Officials also warned that the lack of support 'could be fatal' for Eurostar.

"This inept government failed to secure our borders last year and despite longstanding cries for help has still not provided sector specific support for our travel trade," TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said. "Government's mixed messages are sinking the travel trade and their failure to support Eurostar may be fatal.

"Companies, jobs and whole swathes of the industry will be lost forever. This is devastating for those who work in travel but it's also dashing the hopes of so many of us who want to know we can take a break - in the UK or abroad - to ease recovery from this dreadful virus."

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