The chairman of the foreign affairs select committee has questioned official advice telling British tourists to leave Tunisia and said he would still go on holiday to the country.
The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said on Thursday that another terrorist attack in Tunisia was highly likely, though there was no evidence of a specific plot. His warning came after 38 tourists, including 30 Britons, were shot dead on a beach in Sousse last month.
Crispin Blunt, the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee and a former Conservative minister, said he would question Hammond about the decision. “It’s obviously a matter of judgment rather than crystal clear,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday. “But on the basis of what I know, would I be prepared to go myself? Yes.
“The government stood with the people of Tunisia in the immediate wake of the gun attack and didn’t immediately change the travel advice when you might have expected them to do so.
“It’s not clear from the detail of Philip’s statement, and it may not be possible that he can say more, but this may be an opportunity for the foreign affairs select committee to ask him these questions when we are going to have him in front of us on 21 July.
Blunt said the Foreign Office advice put holidaymakers in an impossible situation. “No one can get insurance, the major tour operators are forced to evacuate their people there, it becomes very difficult for individuals then to exercise their own individual judgment.”
On Friday the Irish government followed the UK’s lead by urging its nationals to avoid non-essential travel to Tunisia, but other EU countries, including France, have simply advised tourists to be vigilant.
The Tunisian prime minister, Habib Essid, said he was dismayed by the British decision, but would help people to evacuate. “Little by little, we will try to convince them, perhaps, to go back on it,” he said.
The row over Hammond’s intervention has sparked anger among many holidaymakers who said they felt safe in the country.
Heidi Barlow, 34, said: “We would actually be happy to stay in the current situation because we feel so safe. It’s very quiet. And you can’t imagine that anything could happen.
“On every single entrance to the hotels there’s a guard. There’s armed guards on the beaches. It’s extremely secure and probably more secure than a lot of places you could go at the moment.”
Another woman told Sky News: “They phoned us this morning at 5.55am and said: ‘You’ve got 10 minutes to pack, be down in the lobby because the coach is waiting’.”
Amy Robinson, who was on her first holiday with her boyfriend and arrived just after the shootings, said she thought the Foreign Office had overreacted.
“The same thing happened in Paris and no one stopped people flying out there. The same thing happened in Kuwait. Why are they eliminating Tunisia compared to all these other countries? England are on red alert now, same as Tunisia, but people are still flying to England.”
Downing Street said it believed the Tunisian authorities had not taken enough measures to protect tourists. With foreign visitors concentrated in a small number of areas, the British government said the solution was to increase the number of guards in tourist destinations and do more to identify potential attackers.
The Association of British Travel Agents said it hoped all Britons would be able to fly home by the end of Sunday.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for last month’s shootings in Sousse, but analysts say it may have involved other radical groups and that it may be premature to label it categorically as an Isis attack.
[“source – theguardian.com”]