Tynwald members have voted to support measures introduced by the gov in relation to the opening of borders but only after members raised several concerning issues with the plan which was only passed after an amendment from Speaker Juan Watterson.
The gov was seeking support for changes to isolation periods and testing for people who arrive on the island, as well as creating different categories of permitted visitors.
Members criticised the lack of clarity in gov documents, paradoxes in the iso requirements and a lack of compassion being shown to people needing to visit ill or dying family members.
Douglas East MHK Chris Robertshaw said that despite the documents laid before the court and the Chief Minister’s statement, he was unable to easily explain them to his constituents. Mr Robertshaw also criticised the ‘bureaucracy’ around the gov’s plans.
Mr Robertshaw’s constituency colleague Clare Barber raised further concerns about people from the Republic of Ireland being prevented from travelling to the island without going through 14 days isolation despite people from Northern Ireland being able to travel to the island and go through a 10 day isolation.
Other MHKs including Captain Paul Quine criticised the implementation of the seven day iso with testing. Captain Quine said he and other members had been contacted by who he described as a ‘prominent’ business owner who said it was in reality a 10 day isolation period because of a requirement to avoid busy places between days seven and 10.
Onchan MHK Julie Edge said she had been made aware of people who were told it was impossible to shorten their isolation period despite the change in the rules introduced this past weekend.
Ms Edge was joined by Middle MHK Bill Shimmins in asking why, given the fall in cases in the UK, the island’s borders should be moved to Level 2.
Mr Shimmins added: ‘For too long our people have been confined by our border restrictions. The long term damage these have caused should not be underestimated.’ He also criticised the appearance put forward by the Chief Minister that his gov’s plan had widespread support as ‘many people are angry’ about the plans and said that the Chief Minister had ‘no evidence’ to support the claims that the public are in support of the exit framework.
Kate Lord-Brennan MLC said the gov had failed to implement a clear strategy of mitigation to the public and asked how the gov was seeking to determine if people truly understood the issue. Mrs Lord-Brennan said that it was clear that not only were the public struggling to clearly understand the measures, but civil servants within the gov were also unsure of the measures.
Two amendments were raised by Chris Thomas and Speaker Juan Watterson in relation to the cut off of May 1 for when people could shorten their isolation, to ensure that everyone who went into iso would be treated equally. Mr Watterson also moved an amendment to refund the difference in testing fees charged by the gov and to change all iso periods to the new requirement of seven days with testing. After seven days people can go out in public, but must avoid high risk venues such as the hospital and care homes as well as busy places such as pubs for three days before they are then allowed to go about their business unimpeded.
Treasury Minister Alf Cannan said he was not aware of this before Tynwald but that he would not stand in the way of that amendment if that was the will of Tynwald. Mr Thomas later withdrew his amendment in favour of Mr Watterson’s.
Douglas North MHK Ralph Peake said that despite Tynwald asking for clearer wording from the gov which would put people off travelling to our island. He said: ‘The Chief Minister said people will have a choice, they will have a choice, they’ll choose not to come to the Isle of Man, why bother?’
Jane Poole-Wilson MLC also spoke to say the regulations aren’t clear enough and said the gov ‘has to work hard now at clarity and simplicity’ so people who want to comply with the rules find it easy to do so.
In responding to the debate, the Chief Minister said CoMin had ‘asked all the same questions’ to what members had asked but said ‘some of them we couldn’t do without setting a dreadful precedent’.
Mr Quayle said: ‘This is confusing, it could be argued, but it is complex.’ He added: ‘All the rules that we’ve made … you then have to follow the consequences of that.’ He asked members to consider the team who have to decide who is allowed to travel to the island and criticised Mr Robertshaw for saying he would vote against the measures because they are ‘too complex’.
The Chief Minister said the Republic of Ireland had too many cases to allow travel to the island and said that both Guernsey and Jersey had restrictions on travel to and from the country.
Addressing Captain Quine, Mr Quayle rejected the idea that the gov’s isolation regulations were ‘smoke and mirrors’ and instead said it was a way to limit the risk and said the 10 day rules were a ‘sensible approach’.
Mr Quayle said that UK’s case figures had not dropped sufficiently to allow the island’s borders to move to Level 2. Despite members saying the UK’s infection rate was below 30 cases in 100,000 he said: ‘We take two weeks, not one week.’
The Chief Minister said that the island was continuing to look at the issue of vaccine passports, but that some people were unable to have a jab. Addressing Mr Shimmins’ claims that there is no evidence that the public supports the gov’s exit frame, the Chief Minister said he is regularly stopped in the street by people who say they do and told the Middle MHK ‘you seem to oppose everything done by this administration’, a statement which drew cries of ‘rubbish’ from Mr Shimmins.
Mr Quayle said that his gov was taking on board the issues around communication and its policies and was ‘always’ seeking to improve. However the fact this issue has been raised at almost every Tynwald sitting since the turn of the year, it could be argued, that progress has been slow in improving this.
Reflecting on the amendment by the Speaker, Mr Quayle said it was policy not to make retrospective changes, despite the indication that his Treasury Minister would not be objecting, as it was a major logistical issue to change testing dates and questions how much it would cost to refund money to people. Mr Quayle also confirmed that he would be giving the Council of Ministers a free vote on the amendment.
When it came to the vote on the Speaker’s amendment, it was passed unanimously before a divide was called for. When the amendment on the vote came, it was passed 21-2 in the Keys and unanimously by the Legislative Council. The motion as amended was then passed by the same margain.