Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
2 August 2021

Why Rishi Sunak is fighting so hard to save summer holidays

The Chancellor’s letter to Boris Johnson complaining about the travel rules reflects the anger in the party that restrictions aren’t easing fast enough.

By Stephen Bush

Conservative backbenchers, the tourism industry, the right-wing press, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the French government are in revolt over the British government’s convoluted and increasingly difficult to follow travel restrictions. 

What started out as a traffic light system has become “more of a rainbow”, according to Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley. Smith’s comments were reported in the Times by Eleni Courea, while a letter from Rishi Sunak to Boris Johnson, complaining about the rules, has made its way to Tim Shipman at the Sunday Times

[See also: The Tory crime strategy is either lock them up or lock them down − and neither one is working]

Whatever your opinion is on the pace of the government’s unlocking, part of the problem is a tendency by this government – and governments around the world – to reinvent the wheel rather than use tried-and-tested approaches. In the world of international travel, vaccine passports (and in the case of some diseases such as Tuberculosis, an X-ray upon arrival) have been in place for a century. Yet anyone looking at the UK’s travel restrictions would be forgiven for thinking that the coronavirus vaccines were the first inoculations ever developed, and that the effectiveness of the jabs were some kind of bold new experiment.

But the most significant aspect politically is the relationship between Johnson, Sunak, and that leaked letter. The politics of this are fairly straightforward: the mood in the parliamentary party is that the UK’s remaining restrictions need to be lifted immediately, and that the economic costs of restrictions need to be given greater weight in policymaking. Throughout the pandemic, Sunak has been the most consistent and the most powerful of the government’s lockdown critics. 

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

[See also: Police forces are still failing to improve their record on race – why?]

Some of the Prime Minister’s allies think that the letter is all about positioning for the next leadership election: a way of reminding critics of lockdowns on the backbenches that Sunak is their man. (That thinking is shared by one or two of the other possible candidates, as it happens.) 

​​And whether they’re right or wrong to think that, Sunak’s budget timetable means more hard choices and difficult fights will take place this autumn – on territory (unlike lockdown) where the party is far from united and the Chancellor’s footing much less secure. He will need all of his political skills and allies to navigate the next year.

[See also: Paul Mason: “The Conservatives who come after Boris Johnson will be more dangerous”]

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action