BA vs Boris: British Airways threatens to seek judicial review of UK quarantine measures

June 29, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

British Airways (BA), with the support of Ryanair and EasyJet, has threatened to seek judicial review (the process whereby a decision of a public body can be challenged and overturned in court) of the UK government’s decision to impose a 14-day quarantine period on international arrivals.

What does this mean?

With planes grounded since March, the aviation industry has been crippled by the pandemic. Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA parent company International Airlines Group (IAG), said: “In May we flew a total of 485 passenger flights. We did that by lunchtime on 1 May last year. This is the most difficult challenge the airline industry has ever faced”. BA is currently burning through its cash reserves at a rate of £20m per day. The airline has borrowed £300m from the Bank of England and cut 12,000 jobs (check out our report on that here) to maximise liquidity. Several airlines had planned to resume flights in July. According to Walsh, the government’s quarantine policy has “torpedoed” any opportunity to do so.

Concerned that the policy could hamper the industry’s economic recovery, Walsh sent a pre-action protocol letter (preliminary stage of the judicial review process) to the government, which was also signed by Ryanair and EasyJet bosses. The letter expressed their intention to seek judicial review if the policy is not modified.

What's the big picture effect?

This story highlights the fragility of the balance sought by the government between protecting the health of the public and the health of the economy. Home Secretary Priti Patel insists that the measures are necessary to “prevent a devastating second wave” of the virus. However, for as long as business activities are restricted, industries and jobs will remain under threat.

It is possible that the government may wish to cooperate with the aviation industry and modify the policy in order to avoid judicial review proceedings. BA has suggested two alternative courses of action. The first is the re-adoption of a measure that was in place in March which only required passengers entering the UK from high-risk countries to self-isolate. The second is the implementation of “air bridges”, which allow quarantine-free travel between the UK and other low-risk countries. However, due to increasingly strained relations between Britain’s biggest airlines and the government, co-operation is unlikely. As well as threatening to seek judicial review of the policy, BA and Ryanair bosses declined to attend a virtual meeting with Patel and Aviation Minister Kelly Tolhurst to discuss it. The meeting came a day after MPs condemned BA for a lack of “social responsibility”, over its redundancy plans.

Whether or not this intense power struggle concludes with a policy change, its outcome is guaranteed to be met with a mixed response from airlines, politicians, economists and the public.

Report written by Isobel Deane

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