Skip to main content

European Football Championships: Travel

Volume 813: debated on Monday 21 June 2021

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to exempt from quarantine restrictions (1) UEFA and FIFA officials, and (2) associated visitors, travelling to the United Kingdom for the final of the European football championships.

My Lords, the Government are proud that the UK is hosting 12 Euro 2020 matches, including both semi-finals and the final at Wembley. We already permit certain officials and accredited guests to enter the UK for these matches under the elite sport exemption. We will continue to keep the scope of these exemptions under review, and are working closely with the FA and UEFA to ensure that these Euro 2020 matches take place successfully. At all times in this pandemic, public health remains our priority.

My Lords, I am pleased to hear the Minister’s reassurance on that count. However, given the Government’s track record—travel from India having seeded the Delta variant and Cornwall spiking 2,400% after the G7 summit—does she accept that the public are rightly concerned that their right to life and livelihoods might again be at risk due to the possible importation of what we might call the UEFA variant if the exemptions highlighted in the media go ahead? Will the Government publish an impact assessment so that we can see on what basis this potentially risky and unfair decision has been taken?

I stress that no decision has yet been taken, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for acknowledging that public safety remains our top priority, including the safe delivery of Euro 2020. We have testing protocols and international restrictions in place to help ensure that this tournament can take place successfully and safely.

My Lords, I know from past bids to hold major football tournaments that the organisers stipulate their requirements in detail, including all aspects of attendance. The United Kingdom could decline but we know that the tournament would simply go elsewhere, which is not attractive or generally to be recommended. While some people may be irate about these facts, I have two questions. First, on the assumption that we may yet admit UEFA guests, what specific health safety checks would be insisted on to ensure the safety of the people of the United Kingdom? Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly for national economic life and the future of jobs in this country, will the Government make specific arrangements to ensure that short-term visits from key strategic businesses and investors could also proceed where they are safe, given that vital activity is currently impeded by quarantine arrangements that are more restrictive than in any competitor nation?

I thank the noble Lord for his reflections and questions. The health restrictions that could be imposed if we reached an agreement with UEFA would build on the existing elite sport exemptions that, I think, are well understood by the public and whose rationale is well accepted, including capacity, testing, isolation and staying in bubbles. As for the wider opening up of the economy that he spoke about, he knows that we are working towards stage 4 of the road map in that regard.

My Lords, will the Minister tell us how many of the delegates coming here have been fully vaccinated? Surely that is a fact that we should know before we make any other decisions.

I stress again that no final decisions have been taken. Our approach is to restrict any extension to the smallest possible group of people who are deemed critical for staging the tournament successfully. I am not aware that we will publish the vaccination status, but we will ensure that any visit is a safe one.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that allowing 250 VIPs to come into the country without quarantine sends the wrong message to the general public: that quarantine is not important, and that there is one rule for them and one rule for people seen as more important?

The noble Lord cites a figure that I do not recognise. The principle is that we are not exempting any VIPs or accredited guests from our restrictions. If it is agreed that they should enter the UK, they would be allowed to leave isolation only for official events and would be subject to a very strict code of conduct.

My Lords, if the Government are minded to waive quarantine restrictions to avoid the final and semi-finals being moved from the UK, are they looking at controls such as limiting the number of those exempted, where they can stay, what they can do once they are in the UK, and their departure after the final?

We are looking at all the elements that my noble friend mentioned, and our goal is that UEFA is able to meet the terms of its contractual agreements and that we are able to host a very successful and safe games.

My Lords, many thousands of fans have tickets for the games at Wembley. Business supply chains and workers have been preparing for them for a long time. Perhaps UEFA should remember that it was the passion of fans in this country in particular that saw off the threat of the European Super League. To repay the favour by removing games would be a pretty disgraceful betrayal. Many traders will use this as a first opportunity to open up. What considerations are the Government giving to supporting traders should these games end up being relocated? Furthermore, what thoughts have the Government had about the balance between fans and organiser sponsor interests, in the light of the threat of moving the final somewhere else? Can we have an update on this work as an aspect of the fan-led review?

As the noble Lord knows, the fan-led review is separate from today’s topic of discussion. With regard to support for traders, the Government’s generous cross-economy package continues through to September, as he is also aware.

My Lords, on 18 June the Prime Minister said, in regard to this issue, that protecting public health was his priority. What public health data, therefore, do the Government have that indicates that up to 2,500 UEFA officials are less likely to catch and spread Covid-19 than ordinary football fans, who will have to quarantine?

The noble Lord knows that the health status of those officials is unlikely to be different from that of anyone else. What is different is that those officials are exempted to enter the UK only as part of an elite sport bubble, unlike others.

My Lords, why is there such a disconnect between the Government’s rules for football and those for culture? Quite apart from the terrible problems facing travelling artists, having seen on television over the weekend the happy revellers at matches inside bars and pubs, the points that Barbara Keeley MP and I made in our letter from the APPG on Classical Music to Oliver Dowden last week are all the more germane. In other words, is it not utterly ridiculous that shouting, chanting and drinking fans can congregate and hug each other but a small, amateur, vaccinated and socially distanced choir cannot meet to rehearse?

I recognise the issues that the noble Lord raises; he is not alone in feeling concerned by some of the events that were broadcast over the weekend.

My Lords, I reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said about communal singing and the comparisons with football. The Minister mentioned that whoever comes in will be subject to a “strict code of conduct”. Will the Government make it absolutely clear what sanctions will be imposed on those who breach any of the rules associated with that code?

I am not familiar with the details of that, but I imagine it would be the responsibility of UEFA and the international football associations, since it would apply to non-UK citizens.

My Lords, I believe that 15 minutes are allowed for a Private Notice Question, so there is time for the final question.

I am thrown now, my Lords. Anyway, congratulations to Wales—it is the hope that kills you—and to the Scottish football fans for having a good time. On this cancelled “freedom day”, does the Minister understand that these apparent double standards and exemptions for the few, similar to those we saw at the G7 and Royal Ascot, are creating cynicism about whether policies are really based on evidence, not just among the protesters outside today but among the most lockdown-compliant citizens? Perhaps UEFA and FIFA saw the viral thread of tweets describing the risible conditions in an official quarantine hotel: for example, paltry amounts of food served at 9 pm and children and the elderly incarcerated and actually going hungry. Can the Minister assure the House that, rather than tightening up quarantine, the Government might look at lessening it for the many rather than just for the few?

Some of the wider issues to which the noble Baroness rightly alludes are part of our broader strategy for lifting lockdown progressively. Quarantining is obviously part of that. Our number one priority for these events is the public health safety of our citizens. The second is to be good hosts to the teams and VIPs coming to this country. To do this, we will build on our existing elite sport exemptions. Anyone allowed in will be subject to the same restrictions.

Sitting suspended.