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In a stinging attack on Boris Johnson’s government, May said the UK didn’t take advantage of its swift and successful vaccination programme to get travel up and running again promptly.

Speaking at the WTTC’s Global Summit on Tuesday (29 November), May said the government’s “failure to act” to protect the travel industry resulted in devastating consequences for a “critical sector” that risked “decimating” the aviation sector.

Addressing delegates directly, May said: “The world recognises your industry has gone through a difficult time – you bore the brunt of Covid.”

“In the UK, we were late to introduce restrictions – and even later to lift them,” she said. “The UK was one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world, but our government was reluctant to give [back] the freedoms that should have come with this.”

May said the damage inflicted on “a critical sector” in the UK had been extreme. “The devastation has passed, but the pandemic has left its scars,” she said, adding the UK’s aviation sector “was almost decimated”
The former prime minister said the UK government should “govern in the interest of the country, not at the behest of the opinion polls” and “place a stronger emphasis on evidence-based policy” should there be need for future Covid restrictions.


She also criticised the lack of a global stance and global unity on Covid measures. “When cooperation was needed most, politicians failed to act,” she said. “There was little international consensus. In our inter-connected world, cooperation between governments is essential for decision making.”

May was particularly vocal in her criticism of the UK government’s handling of Covid travel restrictions last year. She came to the travel industry’s defence in June 2021 when the government delayed plans to ease restrictions, remarking during a Commons debate a debate the UK’s handling of Covid restrictions had “devastated” the travel industry.


MP for Maidenhead May was the UK’s second female prime minister and second longest-serving post-war home secretary, holding the office for six years from 2010 to 2016. She was the first head of a major global economy to enshrine net-zero emissions in law, a target the UK has for 2050.

During her wide-ranging address, she also touched on travel’s commitment and progress towards sustainability. “We don’t need to choose between net zero emissions and higher economic growth, we can have both,” she told delegates.

May said major technological advancements were imminent, which would allow the aviation sector to reduce its carbon impact. Air travel is currently estimated to be responsible for around 2% of human-induced global emissions.

The summit, which is being held in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, will be held from 28 November to 1 December and will aim to debate the travel and tourism industry’s post-pandemic recovery and its transition to a “safer, more resilient, inclusive and sustainable” sector.
Source: TTG