Recent reports of people trapped overseas and complaining about the lack of British support to get them home seem, on the face of things, to be an indication of sheer incompetence on the part of the Foreign Office. But is there more to this story that is not being reported by a British press determined to have a go at the Establishment, come what may?
The son and daughter-in-law of some friends had been back-packing around the world since autumn last year, and ended up in New Zealand in early March. Many others doing the same thing had started their trips in March, well after the Covid 19 outbreak had become well-established, frontline-news.
Our friends were in constant touch with their son and were increasingly anxious about their ability to extract themselves from the region in the event of a lock-down, or indeed the growing likelihood of a major reduction in international flights. One by one, the signs stacked up that quarantine and other restrictions were going to be imposed, and sometimes at very short notice. Their son just managed to get out of New Zealand and flew to Australia, where he and his wife were quarantined for two weeks and prepared for the fact that they might not be able to get out of Australia at the end of that time.
Throughout this period their parents were alternating between providing messages of support and blunt “advice” to curtail their trip and get back to the UK while they still could. Having been told that the couple were keen to press on and not run for cover immediately, it was made quite clear that if they became “marooned” out there, then they had no-one else to blame but themselves, and that they would have to accept the consequences: no-one was going to come along and bail them out.
Half-way through their quarantine in Australia, they managed to buy a ticket to fly to Japan and then on to the UK. Arriving at the airport, they were at the end of the huge queue of families, all trying to get tickets and seats on any flight out. They were called forward and told that many in the queue had actually flown into Australia after the national lockdown had been announced. This included a family of five, with three small children, who had spent two weeks of their “holiday” in isolation and who were now camping at the airport to try to find a way home.
They knew that others who had been with them in New Zealand had ignored the signs and warnings from their respective families to get out, and were now stuck there with invalid plane tickets, no money, and virtually no other resources to support them. But of course, now that the reality of the situation hit home, they were some of the first to run to the press complaining about being abandoned by the UK.
Elsewhere, reports were coming in of people in their late-sixties or seventies who were “stuck” in Spain or similar parts, with no money and who were running out of medical supplies such as insulin. But, taking a slightly closer look at these stories, it emerged that, in one well-publicised case, a 65-year old had flown to Spain knowing full-well that they were in a medical crisis, and had taken just enough medicine for the two weeks they were there. They then whinged about having to buy more drugs in country, having been told their flight back was cancelled after predicted national lockdowns brought various airlines to their knees. What induced him to go there in the first place?
It seems we Brits are sometimes so daft when it comes to this sort of thing. Is it because we are so laid-back we simply do not believe the worst will happen? Or is it that we have entered a state of individual mental paralysis and social dependence that we just do not take responsibility for the things we do? Perhaps it is coupled with the “entitlement” mentality that seems to pervade everything these days: indeed, one person, when asked why they had gone away knowing the destination country was fighting the virus, replied: ”Why should I give up my holiday? I deserved it”.
And so the Foreign Office are now having cope with hundreds of thousands of Brits stuck in all parts of the world, many of whom saw the writing on the wall and yet who either went ahead with their journeys, or just ignored those signs, all in the expectation that the “Government” would come to their aid. The bill for that support has already gone well over £100m – and will be a lot more at the end of the day. And who actually pays? You and me for the most part.
The young couple mentioned above were asked upon their return if they felt they had taken any unnecessary risks or had perhaps pushed things a bit too far. They reflected for a moment and said that they would not have done anything differently and felt their decisions had been the right ones. They stuck to that line even when asked if they were aware that their actions had caused their families a lot of anxiety: again they felt they had done the right thing.
In their case, they had the funds and support to get out at the last minute. But if they had not, then they would have got no more than they deserved and would have had no right to ask the Government to help them out.
The same goes for many of those now complaining about the lack of FO assistance. Perhaps we should only repatriate those who can show they made reasonable efforts to get on a flight home whilst things were relatively normal, and we should certainly not assist those who departed these shores within the last six weeks or so, knowing that they could end up stranded somewhere. To be blunt, perhaps this country would be better off without them.