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UK transport secretary defends contentious electronics ban

UK transport secretary Chris Grayling insists that new restrictions on electronic devices do not amount to distrust of security measures in the six countries identified.

But Grayling did not give detailed answers regarding the practicality of the measures, and the possible resulting disruption, during an address to the UK parliament on 22 March.

“This new announcement is not a vote of no confidence in the security measures in any other country,” he said.

“The decision was specifically taken in response to an evolving security threat, and I do not want it to be seen as a ‘thumbs-down’ to the security arrangements available in any of the countries affected.”

Passengers on inbound nonstop flights to the UK from the six countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia – will be required to place laptop computers and other large electronic devices in hold baggage.

Grayling was challenged as to why the list of countries, and the type of devices involved, differs from that compiled by the US government under a similar directive, issued shortly before the UK’s.

But he deflected the question, stating that the different approach by the US authorities was “a matter for them”.

Grayling also declined to explain, after being asked specifically, why transporting the restricted devices in the hold was considered safe, particularly given the concerns over the fire risk from lithium batteries.

“We have taken what we believe is the right decision in the interests of protecting our citizens,” he said, but refused to give details of the security concerns which had spurred the decision.

Nor did he directly answer queries about practical procedures for passengers who had booked flights under cabin-baggage-only fares.

“That is very much a matter for the airlines to resolve,” he said. “It will be for individual airlines to establish exactly how to handle passengers who are booked on hand-baggage-only tickets.”

He added: “We have been in discussions with the airlines and we hope, believe and expect that they will work a system that ensures people are not worse off as a result of the changes.”

Grayling’s answers drew a degree of derision from a member of the opposition Labour party, Richard Burden, who said there were “still too many loose ends” to the measures, such as the possibility of passengers’ circumventing them simply by transiting through an unaffected country.

Failing to clarify the grounds for the restrictions, said Burden, potentially left the UK and US governments open to the suspicion that they were “unreasonably singling-out” particular Middle Eastern and North African countries, rather than taking precautions which would be effective in keeping all flights safe.

Grayling responded by stating that the new rules would apply to transfer passengers, who would undergo a further central security check and be subject to checks at the airport gates.

“This is nothing to do with singling-out countries or destinations,” he added. “The decisions we take are based purely and simply on an evolving security threat, and on what we believe is the right way to protect UK citizens.”

Grayling also said he would formally contact insurance associations to encourage the industry to be “mindful and realistic” over the risk of theft to passengers’ devices as a result of equipment having to be carried in the hold.

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