With permission Mr Speaker I wish to make a statement on the recent decisions taken by the government following the loss of the Russian Metrojet flight on Saturday (31 October 2015).
I know the House will join with me in expressing our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.
224 lives were lost.
I was able to express our deepest sympathy to the Russian Ambassador yesterday when the Foreign Secretary and I signed the book of condolence.
We still cannot be certain what caused the loss of the aircraft.
But we are reaching the view that a bomb on board is a significant possibility.
Were this to turn out to be the case, it clearly has serious implications for the security of UK nationals flying from Sharm el-Sheikh.
We have therefore taken the decision that it was necessary to act.
The decisions we’ve made are based on a review of all of the information available to us.
Some of it is sensitive.
I am not able to go into detail on that information.
But the House can be assured that we have taken this decision on the basis of the safety of British citizens.
There are 2 stages to this process:
- we are working with the airlines to put in place a short-term measure – this could for example include different arrangements for handling luggage
- beyond that, we are working with the Egyptians and airlines to put in place long term sustainable measures to ensure our flights remain safe
We very much hope that it will be possible to declare that it is safe to fly to the resort and resume normal flight operations in due course.
That is why my Right Honorable Friend the Foreign Secretary, announced yesterday evening that the government was now advising against all but essential travel by air to or from this particular airport.
All UK operated flights to and from the airport have now been suspended.
We are working with the Egyptians to assess, where necessary, to improve security at the airport.
Over 900,000 British nationals visit Egypt every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
My Right Honorable Friend said yesterday, we are grateful for the continuing efforts of the Egyptian authorities to work together with us on these vitally important tasks.
The government is now working with the airline community to put into place interim arrangements for getting people home.
This is a clearly a very difficult situation for travellers and their families.
I would like to thank the airlines for their support during this difficult time and to holiday makers for their patience.
In parallel, specialist teams will be working intensively with the Egyptian authorities to allow normal scheduled operations to recommence.
The decision to suspend flights is very serious indeed and has not been taken lightly.
But the safety and security of the travelling public is of course the government’s highest priority.
We will need to be confident that security standards meet our expectations and those of the public before we allow services to resume.
I recognise, Mr Speaker, this is a stressful time for British tourists but we haven’t changed the travel threat for the resort itself.
People should keep in touch with their tour operators. We will also have consular staff on the ground providing assistance.
We have aviation security experts on the ground and will have arrangements to bring people home safely in due course.
The airlines are working with us to bring their passengers home.
No UK-bound aircraft will take off until it is safe to do so.
We do not expect flights to leave today, but we hope to have flights leaving tomorrow.