A fitful night’s sleep hadn’t eased the tension in the Shapps’ family compound in the south of Spain. Conversation was limited to a few terse exchanges as Grant started packing his bags for his return home.
“But you told the Today programme back in April that you wouldn’t be taking a family holiday abroad this summer,” his wife reminded him. “So how come we’ve ended up in this villa and will have to quarantine for 14 days on our return?”
“Um …” Shapps mumbled. “Well, everything seemed to be getting a bit better, we had introduced some air corridors and the flights were dirt cheap …”
“So it’s sod’s law that you, the transport secretary, chose to fly on the one air corridor that you knew was going to be closed before we had even taken off.”
“Look, I’ve said I’m sorry countless times. I just couldn’t be seen to be acting on inside knowledge. Not that I had any.”
“So instead you look like a complete twat by cutting short a holiday you said you weren’t going to take, in order to get your 14 days of quarantine over and done with as soon as possible, while leaving me and the kids behind.”
“That’s one way of looking at it …”
“Chill out, Mum,” said the kids. “We’ll probably have a better time without him. At least we won’t have the embarrassment of being photographed on the beach again.”
Moments later there was an insistent knock on the door. Shapps got up to open it, to be greeted by two Spanish secret service officers. “We’ve got prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, on the phone. He’s very keen to have a word with you about your government’s changes to its coronavirus guidelines for Spain. And yes, he has got a translator with him.” Grant reluctantly took the receiver, sensing that a bad day was about to get a whole lot worse.
“So what the fuck is going on?” Sánchez demanded. “We have a spike in infections in Catalunya and Aragon and even then our daily death figures are lower than the UK. And what do you do? You effectively close down the whole country to English tourists.”
“Try to look on the bright side,” Shapps replied. “At least you won’t have to deal with a whole load of drunks in Magaluf and bookings for self-catering holidays in the UK have gone through the roof.”
“But it’s just mad. Why did you have to impose the same restrictions on the Canaries and the Balearics? Both of them have extremely low rates of infection and the islands aren’t full of people like Toby Young who think wearing a mask is an affront to their national identity. Except for the Brits.”
“That’s just it. The quarantine is to protect ourselves against our own tourists who go on holiday, get pissed, forget to take any precautions and come back to the UK having given one another the coronavirus. And what we were also worried about was that tourists might fly in to Lanzarote and then try to sneak their way back to the Spanish mainland by boat …”
“You do realise that Tenerife is about the same distance from Barcelona as London is? And nobody has ever booked a holiday to Ibiza and wound up in Granada by mistake. Not even Michael Gove when he was out of his head on coke. It makes about as much sense as imposing a total lockdown in the Falkland Islands when you have an outbreak in Leicester.”
“Actually that’s an oversight on our part. We should have done that long ago.”
“And if you’re really concerned about infection, how come Gibraltar got an exemption? Thousands of mainland Spaniards go to work there every day. And you do know there’s nothing stopping people flying in to the south of France and then driving over the Spanish border?”
“Crikey. I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Well, if you don’t get things sorted soon then we are going to retaliate by imposing a 28-day quarantine on anyone travelling to Spain from the Isle of Wight.”
“Be my guest. You don’t want people like Richard Tice and Bob Seely coming into your country for a barbecue.”
“The thing is, you’re giving the impression that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing. First you unilaterally impose a 14-day quarantine. Then you extend it to include Mallorca and the Canaries. And now I’m hearing from Boris Johnson that you might reduce the quarantine to just 10 days.”
“Finally, we’re on the same page, Pedro,” said Shapps. “Looking as if we are panicking is exactly the impression we want to give. We got hammered for being slow to react back in March and we don’t want to make the same mistake again when the second spike inevitably comes. So we’re now determined to look tough by being the first to lock things back down regardless of whether they’re actually necessary. With any luck by this time next week I will have also shut down the air corridors to Italy, France and Greece. Just imagine the travel chaos. I’ll be headline news for weeks.”
Sánchez shook his head and ended the conversation. There was no arguing with that kind of logic.