Ten years in jail – Matt Hancock's threat is the distress call of a minister losing his grip | Simon Jenkins

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This wild gesture toward would-be holidaymakers has drawn strong criticism from the right. But where is Labour?

For the health secretary, Matt Hancock, this week to threaten returning holidaymakers with 10 years in jail was an abuse of office. He was wielding weapons of personal destruction to glamorise his role in the pandemic and to cover his political flank for past mistakes. This is not what the criminal law is for. Hancock’s self-appointed status as Covid’s hysteric-in-chief has gone to his head. Yet when he announced the punishment in the Commons on Tuesday, not a single politician on the left dared call him to account.

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Hancock’s actual threat was that “anyone who lies on a passenger locator form … will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years”. To make this seem not a new crime, he apparently introduced it under the 1981 Forgery and Counterfeiting Act. This act was directed at forged banknotes and passports, and its use here would rely on a judge forming the broadest possible definition of “forgery”, as in putting a tick in a wrong box. I am told that this would almost certainly require an order placed before parliament that would be vulnerable to scrutiny and possible delay. Hence Whitehall now saying Hancock was “not creating a new offence”. In that case, why did he announce it as if he was?

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